On March 18, 2012, Rupert's illustrator - Tonia - and I had the pleasure of doing a live interview with host Karagan Griffth. As it turns out, Karagan is a real Friend of Rupert. Enjoy the show here: WitchTalk
ARH – We are pleased to welcome Kyrja as our Featured Author for this week.
K – Merriest of Meets to you too! Everybody sing! “I’m a Friend of Rupert, sing it loud and clear! If you’re a Friend of Rupert, then give a great big cheer!” Okay, okay! I can’t help myself. I am easily excited. And I love to sing. Oh – and this song (the whole thing) will be in the “Rupert’s Tales Wheel of the Year Activity Book” when it comes out this spring, so then you really CAN sing along! Or, maybe I should just go ahead and sing it on You Tube. What do you think?
ARH – Please tell us a little more about yourself.
K – I suppose the first thing you should know is that I tend to babble. Ramble. I even talk too much on occasion.
Seriously – I hate this question, because there’s so much to tell, and it’s nearly impossible to pick and choose what to say. I know what the question is really meant to do is to provide me with space to outline my professional qualifications and such, but I would rather tell you that I am one of the happiest people you will ever meet because I choose to be. Also, I could spend hours sharing stories of personal adventures which would be way more fun than telling you about my credentials. My husband, Randy, and I go to Disney World almost every month because we live so close by. I have a glitter wand (several of them actually) that we made to take with us everywhere in order to spread the magick of silliness and smiles as far and wide as possible.
I have painted our house in a most-colorful way, both inside and out, with vibrant colors and Disney characters. We call it the “Glitter Dome” and everyone who visits gets sprinkled. We literally have traffic stop outside our house because people can’t help but to stop, gawk, and smile. THEN they come inside for the tour! Everybody takes a smile with them when they go. I have thee best life imaginable, filled with color, glitter, creativity, peace, friendship and lots of reasons to giggle!
ARH – How did you get started as a writer?
K – I was born. No – really. I just have always been writing. Always. I have been writing fantasy-genre fiction for decades, but have not yet experienced the pinnacle of success – publication of said novels. I shall – trust me. Just not today.
As far as Rupert’s Tales are concerned though, they started because I first wrote “The Monster Got Mom.” My family was gathered for one holiday or another, and tales of old reared their collective head. My brothers were re-counting a tale of their adventures in seeking out a monster in the dead of the night because they heard spooky sounds. Everyone laughed at their recollections. One relative said “Someone should write a book about that!” Another said, “Kyrja, you’re the writer in the family ….” So that’s what I did. Like Rupert’s Tales, it rhymes all the way through and is delightfully ridiculous to read – with a surprise ending.
If you’re a writer, perhaps you know the feeling of the “pressure” you get when one of the voices in your head is wriggling more than the others. The story (or parts of it) pops up through the whirling chaos of creativity more and more often, until you simply have to stop what you’re doing to listen. That’s what happened with Rupert. I’d been getting glimpses of him off and on – and I still had all this rhyming stuff in my head. At the time, I was working as a laborer and heavy equipment operator in the construction industry. I had been at work for two hours one morning, when I knew I could stand no more. I told my foreman I had to go home to write. He was probably the best foreman anyone ever had anywhere, so he let me go. I wrote “Rupert’s First Beltane” that day. Then created a series of Rupert’s Tales by writing another story about our furry friend for each Sabbat that followed. It was impossible not to keep writing them.
ARH – Tell us more about Rupert’s Tales.
K – It continues to be impossible not to write more of Rupert’s adventures and Tales. I sincerely feel as though I am nothing more than the envelope in which the stories arrive. Yes, it’s important that I am the instrument through which they are created – my unique person adds something to the process – but these stories belong to the Universe at-large and certainly come from Goddess and God. It’s truly amazing to be a part of this process.
Rupert’s artist, Tonia Bennington Osborn, and I feel the same way about Rupert and how he came about through the two of us. Her brother is my best friend, so when I showed him the stories, saying I needed an artist, he called Tonia. The way the two of us work together is honestly – flabbergasting. From the very beginning she was completely respectful of everything that was important to me, asking insightful questions which made me have to think about what I really wanted, what was important to me, and how I wanted the stories to look – to include everything from hair color to the phase of the moon in her illustrations. Every author wishes they had Tonia as their artist. She is truly amazingly insightful and always – always – spot on. The only “difficulty” we have had in working together has been when she sends me an illustration that is what I need instead of what I want.
By that, I mean that I have always said that Rupert will never talk to people. He will remain a creature of the forest. He and other animals speak to each other. And fairies. And God and Goddess. But people will never hear him, and he will never speak to people. Rupert and his friends are to remain less “cartoon-ish” than, say, Bugs Bunny – but less “realistic” than picture-perfect. An excellent example of this is just this week, Tonia sent me an illustration of Sharee the Snail – from the fourth story in book three, “Rupert’s Tales: Rupert Helps Clean Up.” I envisioned purples and pinks and green and orange. Instead, she sent me an illustration of Sharee which is beige and light blue. At first I was a bit disappointed, but only for a brief moment, because I knew she had – once again – done exactly what was needed and not what I thought I wanted. She helps me remain consistent and true to my vision, when I would otherwise meander through Skittle-colored realms of imagination. While that kind of imagery would, certainly, be fun, it is not what these stories call for.
ARH – What was your experience with Schiffer Books?
K – When I sent out the first three Tales, via email, I heard back from the president of Schiffer Publishing – Pete Schiffer – within the hour! He wanted to see more. I’m sure many of you can imagine the reaction I had from that email! I had been standing up when I went to check my email. I literally fell to my knees in delighted shock. As tears streamed down my face, I sobbed with gratitude. Then I screamed with delight!
Since then, it’s been an interesting process. There have been moments of anger, of total frustration, of wanting to wring collective necks. But there have been (many!) more moments of amazement and gratitude. The end products – the books themselves – are truly works of art. They are first-class books. The weight of the paper, the inks, the dust covers, the books themselves are utterly fabulous.
While I must acknowledge that my own perception of how things work in the publishing world is probably skewed with lack of experience, I will also say that I find myself less than pleased with the marketing process. Tonia and I are the ones who hunted down the (superb!) reviews we’ve received thus far. And, while our title is available online through all major booksellers, it is not carried in any brick and mortar store, except for the few independent stores which have agreed to carry them on consignment. This is a major source of frustration for us, especially since we are unable to effect the process in a meaningful way which would change this fact. I am aware that Schiffer is working on this, and perhaps I am simply impatient, but I remain less than pleased with this aspect of the publishing process.
Our editor, Dinah Roseberry, however, has been very supportive in leading us through the steps necessary in order to create a first-class series of books. She has been professional, cheerful, and patient in educating Tonia and me, and is a real Friend of Rupert.
ARH – What inspired you to write these books?
K – I’ve touched on that earlier in this interview, but what I didn’t tell you is that I never – ever – thought I would be writing a children’s book. Not a chance. For years I’ve been writing these epic fantasy-genre adventures, and loving every moment. Well – other than the moments when the rejection slips come back, of course. When my sister-in-law suggested I be the one to write the story of my brothers’ adventures in the middle of the night, I put my hands over my ears and sang out with a “La! La! La! La!” so I couldn’t hear her. But, of course, it was too late. The seed had already been planted.
Creativity is a funny thing. The more you create, the more you want to create. Not only was I writing “Monster” at that time, but I was also writing many Yule songs – the lyrics to which you will find in the “Pagan Writers Presents Yule” anthology. You can also find me on You Tube singing these songs through my “Kyrjarocks” channel.
Once you let one “voice” in your head be heard, others inevitably push forward. For me, there is no such thing as Writer’s Block. I must employ Writer’s Plug. I have to keep the stories, voices, and images contained in small spaces in the labyrinth of my mind until I am able to provide them with my undivided attention. That’s the plan anyway. Every so often, they come rushing out of their own accord. More often, they sneak out!
Rupert, though, was a purposeful prod. I could feel the difference right from the very beginning. There was a meaning. A direction. A need. When I came home from the construction site that day, I sat down, still in my boots and dirty work clothes and wrote the whole thing. Immediately. I was amazed at the result. I cried. I was delighted. To this day, when I read any of his Tales, I tear up, thrilled and awed to play a part in bringing Rupert to the world.
ARH – Do you have more writing ideas for the future?
K – Oh yes! Book Two of “The Wheel of the Year” stories will be released in Spring 2012, with stories where Rupert learns about Samhain, Yule, Imbolc and Ostara. And, I am delighted to tell you, “The Wheel of the Year Activity Book” will be released on or about the same time! There are more than 30 images from the two hardcover titles to color, along with several activity pages, and even two songs I wrote! Schiffer has done a terrific job in bringing this project to fruition. Not to mention Tonia’s efforts in creating images everyone can actually color!
And, we just finished submitting our work for Book Three, “Rupert’s Tales: Rupert Helps Clean Up.” There are four stories where our furry friend will learn about reducing, reusing and recycling. He meets lots of new friends along the way, including a cloud of dragonflies, a silly frog, a friendly cat, and a clever crow.
I’ve talked to Pete Schiffer about creating a “Huggable” Rupert, so one day everyone will be able to hug him! I know I am really, really looking forward to the day when I can actually hold him in my arms. Plus, we just submitted a mockup of a “Wheel of the Year” board game. We are hoping this project will go forward quickly, but its creation may very well depend on whether or not enough books sell to support the expense of producing it.
As for additional books – you can be sure Tonia and I are always working on more adventures for Rupert and his friends. I have two of the four stories for Book Four written, which will be about the Tools of the Craft. Book Five will contain four stories about the Elements, and there are more tales in the works too!
ARH – Will you use Schiffer Books again, or will you self-publish?
K – Tonia and I hope to enjoy a very long, prosperous association with Schiffer Publishing. We applaud both those who self-publish and those who are able to secure a contract through a publishing house.
ARH – As an author, what do you think is the most important piece of advice that you would give an unpublished writer?
K – I am often asked to review work for friends and friends of friends. I always tell them the same thing – I will be honest with you. If I don’t like something you’ve written, I’ll tell you so, and I will tell you why. I think the most-important thing for a writer to have is someone who will be utterly – brutally – honest with them. In the end, the work belongs to the writer and they must make the determination whether to accept the suggestions of their First Reader, but telling someone that their work is nice or good is counterproductive. Your First Reader must tell you what is good, why it’s good, why it works or doesn’t work. This is a much harder to do than it sounds like. Many people find it hard to be honest because they don’t want to hurt other peoples’ feelings. But by failing to be honest, you actually hurt the writer by not helping them with their growth. The writer must be willing to accept this help. No matter how good your story or your writing style, you must be certain your audience understands the story. Listen to your First Reader.
The second most-important thing is to write correctly. Spell correctly. Punctuate. Capitalize. Do it all the time, or you will get lazy. Texting and Facebook have made people lazy in their everyday writing. That’s fine, I suppose, but if you always write correctly, then it won’t be a burden to do so when you are attempting to write professionally.
One last piece of advice (I did warn you that I babble!): practice. Write. Write. And write some more. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes habit. If you do it wrong each and every time, the only thing you have perfected is doing it wrong. Musicians practice their music all the time, as do singers. Practice by writing. And writing. And writing some more.
ARH – Where can we go to learn more about you and purchase your books?
Schiffer Publishing offers free shipping if you order online. Alternatively, you can find our title online at all major bookseller websites, as well as on our own website at: http://www.friends-of-rupert.webs.com/
ARH – Would Tonia Bennington Osborn, the illustrator of Rupert’s Tales care to add anything to the interview?
TO – I am an artist of images, where Kyrja is an artist with words. I can only say that it is an honor to work with her and I am proud to be part of this whole experience. Inspiration comes to us in many ways, whether in song, verse, or image. It is up to each individual to express that inspiration, and bring it to its true beauty. I feel that Kyrja has shared her gift with me, and it is a privilege to be part of Rupert’s Tales.
We both have commented on how this whole process has been brought about for a reason and I believe Rupert knew me long before I ever painted him. When you read Rupert’s Tales, I think you will understand. Catch you on the next Tale
ARH – We appreciate you spending some time with us today Kyrja! We wish you continued luck with your future writing endeavors.
Thank you for your sentiments and for allowing us a space with you. Before I leave you though, let me tell you one more thing which I think is an important part of what we do. Tonia and I are both advocates of “giving” and “giving back.” One of the ways we have done this is that we have taken Rupert out of the pages and illustrations of the stories and have created an official Pasco County “Friends of Rupert” Adopt-A-Road where I live. Each quarter, a group of us gathers to clean our assigned roadway – Rowan Road. We gather to clean and serve and enjoy the day together, and have been doing so for nearly two years. We have a wide variety of tasks to be accomplished, so even those who are not necessarily so “able-bodied” can participate in our efforts. In return for their service, the Friends of Rupert road crew is always the first to hear new Tales as I write them. I am delighted to be a part of such an active community of volunteers and encourage every one of your readers to give to the whole of the global community in some way which helps to create a better “now” AND future for all.
My thanks, too, to my swashbuckling prince of a husband, Randy, for his celebration of all things Kyrja. Without him, the world wouldn’t be quite so colorful.
Kyrja is the author of the Rupert's Tales series of books. The author has generously agreed to share some insight into her world and the creation energy behind Rupert and his stories. This popular pagan centered children's book series has been published by Schiffer Publishing.
Can you tell us about Rupert's Tales and how the idea developed? Where did you draw your inspiration from?
Rupert’s Tales started because I first wrote “The Monster Got Mom.” My family was gathered for one holiday or another, with my brothers reminiscing about their childhood adventures in seeking out a monster in the dead of the night. They claimed they were up because they heard some scary sounds. Everyone was delighted with their silly stories. But then it happened - one relative laughed, saying “Someone should write a book about that!” Another said, “Kyrja, you’re the writer in the family ....” So that’s what I did. Like Rupert’s Tales, it rhymes all the way through and is delightfully ridiculous to read – with a surprise ending.
If you’re a writer, perhaps you know the feeling of the “pressure” you get when one of the voices in your head is wriggling more than the others. The story (or parts of it) pops up through the whirling chaos of creativity more and more often, until you simply have to stop what you’re doing to listen. That’s what happened with Rupert. I’d been getting glimpses of him off and on – and I still had all this rhyming stuff in my head. At the time, I was working as a laborer and heavy equipment operator in the construction industry. I had been at work for two hours one morning, when I knew I could stand no more. I told my foreman I had to go home to write. He was probably the best foreman anyone ever had anywhere, so he let me go. I wrote “Rupert’s First Beltane” that day. Then created a series of Rupert’s Tales by writing another story about our furry friend for each Sabbat that followed. It has been impossible not to keep writing them.
My inspiration for Rupert and what he will learn next is derived from my own life; how I understand and celebrate the sabbats, what things are important to me, and the desire to share the wonder of life and magick with others.
What age group is Rupert's Tales created for? Who can be a Friend of Rupert?
As far as I am concerned, Rupert’s Tales are for everyone, from cradle to grave. These are the stories you wish you would have had as a kid, because you can pull them out each and every sabbat to find out how Rupert celebrates, and what he learned this time. They are specific enough to be useful, while general enough to allow for a wide variety of traditions. One of the most-important things about Rupert’s Tales is that they make a point of saying there are many ways to celebrate – and they rhyme; making them a lot of fun to read out loud.
What I envision is parents reading to their children, then they read the stories for themselves, as they grow older. As a child becomes more aware of the world at-large, and their own path in particular, the lessons Rupert learns in his tales become the child’s own lessons. They provide a beginning place for discussion and education. A parent might say, “This is how Rupert celebrates, but we do something a little different.”
I think it is very, very important to include children from the earliest moments in life in our celebrations and in our everyday magickal workings. Rupert can help, but if parents want their children to have choices, then they must teach their little ones what their own choices are.
Everyone can be a Friend of Rupert! While the first two books are about the eight sabbats of the Wheel of the Year, you do not have to be a Pagan to be enchanted by Rupert and the magick found in his tales. All knowledge is worth having.
What messages do you want Rupert's Tales to bring to its readership?
Primarily, acceptance. It’s okay to worship, celebrate and serve in the way that you feel resonates as “Truth” and “Good” within you. I specifically prefer to not use the term “tolerance,” because that word denotes a negative feeling towards whatever it is that you are tolerating. Acceptance that I do things “this” way and you do things “that” way, and that’s all right. It is also my hope that Rupert will help to teach people, both young and old, what it is that we Pagans do celebrate. And a little bit of why.
The third book, “Rupert’s Tales: Rupert Helps Clean Up” features four tales about reducing, reusing and recycling. Children are being taught the importance of these activities everywhere, which is terrific and important. Rupert will provide readers with information as to why these things are important, and why each of us is important in doing these things.
Future Tales will include stories about the tools of the craft, the elements, the phases of the moon, and even some of the different paths and traditions within the loose structure of the Pagan faith.
It is my intention to provide a starting point, not only for children, but for those new to the path, and even to those who may simply be curious.
How did you decide upon an illustrator for your work? Tell us about Tonia Osborn and how you collaborate together?
Tonia’s brother has long been my best friend. Shaun and I worked together in the construction industry. It was his suggestion that I ask her for help. And Wow! What a partnership we have forged! Not to mention a true and lasting friendship. Tonia is a professional artist and has her own gallery – The Red Z Gallery – in Mount Vernon, Ohio. She’s no starving artist and didn’t have to agree to work with me in order to make ends meet. To say I have been impressed is a true understatement. I think she delights in making me cry though. When she’s working on one of my stories, she sends me pictures of each illustration by email as she finishes. Sometimes she will call as she sends a picture, so she can hear my reaction over the phone. I swear I can hear her chortling with amusement as I cry out in delight, completely enchanted with each work of art she produces.
From the very beginning, Tonia has been completely respectful of every aspect of of Rupert and his tales. One of the first phone calls I received from her was when she was painting “Rupert’s First Beltane.” She told me that since the story called for moonlight, she looked up the phase of the moon for the coming Beltane. She asked if I had a preference for which phase of the moon she depicted, since that year (2009) there would be a full moon, but not every Beltane would feature that phase of the moon. I was absolutely delighted. She has been completely “in tune” with every aspect of every story, always asking questions as to what I wanted to see. She makes me draw the stories before she paints them, so she can “see” what I have in mind.
My favorite story is when I asked her if she could, maybe, not be quite so incredible with her paintings. I told her I was afraid that the publisher would have to increase the price of the book to accommodate the incredible scope of her illustrations. She said, “Should I ask you to dumb down the stories?” Um ... no. From that point on, we agreed that I would do the words and she would do the pictures. And I have to say that it works quite well!
We had worked together for more than two years before we met. We got to spend a few days together in September, 2011 when my husband, Randy, and I flew up to meet her in Ohio before we all headed to Schiffer Publishing for a company picnic together. We were a little worried about how we would get along in person, since we got along so very well long-distance. I am delighted to report our concerns were totally unfounded. She’s a bit more reserved and quiet than I am, but who isn’t? I am looking forward to a very long and very happy professional and personal relationship with Tonia.
You often provide public readings and performances, how do you "get into character?"
This is a great question, and a little hard to answer. Most people who see me in public think of me as silly and loud and pretty much fun to be around. At home, I am very quiet and often very serious about my work, my faith and life in general. As a Libra, this life’s challenge is to find balance. The best way I’ve figured out to achieve this unreachable goal is to live in the extremes. Either I am bouncy, bouncy or very still. And it seems to work for me. It’s very difficult for me to leave my work behind, let alone the colorful home we’ve created, but once I do, then I am completely “on.”
On stage, on camera, on the roof tops! Both versions of me are completely real and really who I am. There is no effort required on my part to “get into character” (as it were). I simply step outside the door and I am ready to roll. I really must say though, that spending my life with someone who not only “tolerates” me and my eccentricities, but sincerely celebrates all things Kyrja, makes all the difference in the world. Randy doesn’t love me in spite of the fact that I’m such a goof, he loves me because I am such a goof. He doesn’t love me in spite of my long, drawn-out serious conversations, he loves me because of these things. When you love yourself first and best, then you have more of the best of yourself to share with others. We all want to feel important and loved, and even when you feel good about who you are, where you’re headed and what you have – you may sometimes still feel as though you aren’t good enough. In one way or another. Maybe not good looking enough, or smart enough, or not “something” enough. My life’s partner is always there to remind me how “more than enough” I am. And so I am able to celebrate each breath, each heartbeat, every tear, and every step with joy.
I will admit that my own enthusiasm for our furry friend has sometimes caused me to overextend myself and to schedule more events than what is comfortable. And there are things that I do for Rupert that I wouldn’t necessarily do for myself. I would often rather stay home than to go just about anywhere else. But I have been called upon to bring Rupert to the world, and so off I must go. I have always – always – considered myself nothing more than the envelope in which the message arrives. Rupert is not so much “my” creation as he is the message from God and Goddess using my voice. On those days when Randy may be tempted to get a rope to drag me out the door, I always manage to remember what it is I am doing and why. Once I get outside the door, it’s all good.
So, thanks to Randy, and the many blessings the Universe continues to bring us, public readings and performances are a delightful way to share the joy Rupert has brought to my life.
Aside from the initial illustrated book, there is also an activity book and merchandise like T-shirts, what other future additions can we expect to the Rupert line?
As you mentioned, our first book, “Rupert’s Tales: The Wheel of the Year – Beltane, Litha, Lammas and Mabon” was released in February 2011. Our second book, with stories about the other four sabbats, “Rupert’s Tales: The Wheel of the Year – Samhain, Yule, Imbolc and Ostara” will be released in February 2012.
“Rupert’s Tales: The Wheel of the Year Activity Book” will be released in Spring 2012 – with images to color from both of the Wheel of the Year hardcover books, as well as a few games and other activities.
Our third hardcover book, “Rupert’s Tales: Rupert Helps Clean Up” will be released in fall 2012 – featuring four tales where Rupert learns about Reducing, Reusing and Recycling.
I have also created a “Rupert’s Tales: The Wheel of the Year Board Game” which I hope will be released in 2013, along with a “Huggable” Rupert which we also hope will be released within the year.
Although they are available through Cafe Press on our website, Friends of Rupert T-shirts are available exclusively at Mystikal Scents in Thonotosassa. Books and posters are also available at Enchanted Earth in Dunedin and there are even two copies of our first book at the Progress Energy Art Gallery in downtown New Port Richey. You are also welcome to check out the copy on the shelves of the New Port Richey Public Library. And, for local Friends of Rupert, you are always welcome to stop by our home – the Glitter Dome – for an autographed copy. Friends outside of our area, who desire an autograph can get a nifty bookplate designed by Tonia featuring our furry friend, for the price of a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
How do you use social media to bring awareness to Rupert's Tales and Friends of Rupert? Can you provide links?
The Friends of Rupert fan page on Facebook gives us the opportunity to let those who have subscribed be the first to know where we’re going to be, what’s coming out next, and all kinds of fun pieces of information. I have shared song lyrics and even You Tube videos of me in costume, singing the songs I’ve written for “Rupert’s Tales and Tunes” performances. I have also asked for suggestions for names of some of Rupert’s friends as I was writing some of the stories. I especially enjoying posting pictures of Friends of Rupert in our photo albums. Here is the link to our Facebook page: Friends of Rupert on Facebook.
The other thing we get to do here, is to advertise our Rupert Road Clean Up events. We’ve taken our furry friend out of the pages and illustrations of the books and formed an official Pasco County Clean Up Team. For almost two years now, we have cleaned the 2.3 miles of Rowan Road between Massachusetts Avenue and Trouble Creek Road four times a year, often in conjunction with local events like Coastal Clean Up and the Great American Clean Up. We have an event scheduled for January with others in April, June and September this year. It should be noted that we do offer certificates for Community Service volunteer hours.
Our Facebook page is directly linked to our Twitter account, so every time I post on the Facebook fan page, I Tweet too. I was delighted to learn that the Human Resource Campaign organization recently began following our Tweets. The other thing I really enjoy about having a Friends of Rupert fan page is that I can share other resources I come across for Pagan children. That’s one thing that I hear repeatedly, is that there are few resources and fewer quality children’s books for Pagan children. So I share as often as I find them.
Another essential resource is Witchvox. I’ve had quite a few people contact me through my profile at this website. Friends of Rupert has been an official sponsor of Witchvox for a couple of years now and we loudly applaud their work.
Finally, if a coordinator would like to schedule you for an event, how can they reach you (and Rupert) for an upcoming event?
There are several different ways, including Facebook, Witchvox, and our website, but the most-direct route is via email either through firstname.lastname@example.org or through email@example.com. Of course, we’re always happy to give tours of our delightful home, so please feel free to stop by!