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Hagerstown siblings write, illustrate early-reader book

August 08, 2013
  • Grant Miller and Amanda Hart Miller collaborated on SuperDylan and the Powers of Just Right, a chapter book for ages 4 to 8.
Submitted photo

Names: Amanda Hart Miller and Grant Miller

Ages: Amanda is 38; Grant is 34

City in which you reside: Hagerstown

Day jobs: Amanda is an English professor at Hagerstown Community College; Grant is a mechanical engineer at TA Engineering Inc. in Baltimore

Book title: “SuperDylan and the Powers of Just Right”

Genre: Early reader (ages 4 to 8) chapter book

Synopsis of book: When 5-year-old Dylan’s younger brother dons a cape and threatens Dylan’s self-proclaimed position as the family superhero, Dylan panics. But after a dangerous flying test and an unlikely rescue mission, his feelings about his brother change.

Publisher: CreateSpace

Price: Approximately $6; set daily by Amazon.com. 

Amanda, tell me what inspired you to write “SuperDylan and the Powers of Just Right”? 

Amanda: The initial impetus to write an early reader chapter book developed when my older son took to the Junie B. Jones books, a series narrated by a sassy, kindergarten-aged girl. My son would find certain aspects of the narrative funny, and I would find other aspects funny, but we could come together in the middle and talk about the story from two different perspectives. 

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I looked around for a similar series of books that were told by a similar male voice, but I couldn’t find any for that age group. I started thinking about the type of book that I wanted to find: a quirky, male, kindergarten-aged narrator, egocentric but sweet, capable of insight but not capable of expressing it directly. That’s when Dylan came to life.

Amanda, what was your process of writing like? How long did it take you to write?

Amanda: I played around with the idea for several weeks before I actually sat down to draft it. Then I drafted it in a weekend, working about eight hours on Saturday and Sunday. But then, of course, I put in a good amount of time after that, revising and editing. 

I had no real plans for it when I wrote it. I sent it out to a few agents but didn’t hear back, which didn’t surprise me because I knew the field of children’s literature is very hard to break into. I shelved it for close to a year. 

Then I decided maybe I’d look into self-publishing it and made a very sad attempt to create one of the drawings, followed by a pathetic plea to Grant to help me envision a character and get the initial lines right so I wouldn’t make a total fool of myself. A few short months later, Grant had become my illustrator.

Grant, are you a professional illustrator? Have you illustrated other books?

Grant: No, I’m not a professional illustrator. Well, I guess I am now! I have left a trail of illustrated napkins, envelopes and sticky notes over the years but never any books. This is the first time I tried to create consistent, reoccurring characters. Amanda’s writing style seems to emphasize each character’s facial structure, age and sex staying consistent from scene to scene, so it was a challenge.

In your bio in the book, you two say you played nicely together as children and never once fought. So, as adults, how did it go as you collaborated on a creative project?

Grant: “Played nicely together and never once fought” might be a slight exaggeration of the past but I think it sums up this process pretty well. The key to any collaborative project is having the flexibility to revise or discard your own work (even though the first draft is always perfect). That’s easy if you respect the opinion of the collaborator(s).

Amanda: One of the most enlightening aspects of this project was experiencing the change in our collaboration as we became more confident about our roles. Once I was more honest that I really didn’t want to be the illustrator, he was able to take more control of the drawings, and when he did, they really came to life. I learned that envisioning drawings is a totally different skill than envisioning the scene. (Grant’s) drawings don’t represent a replica of the words; they augment the impact of the words by stretching the idea a little farther visually. Although we occasionally did fight when we were kids, I can honestly say that the collaboration as adults was a breeze.

Did you both read books when you were kids? Did you have favorite books or characters?

Amanda: I was constantly reading. In this genre, I read the Beezus and Ramona books, and the “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” books. I also enjoyed the Bunnicula books (about the vampire rabbit who sucked the juice out of vegetables) as well as the Black Stallion books.

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