Linda Hansen is the author and illustrator of ‘Otto the Otter: A Big Surprise’, a book about a river otter visiting a family’s pond. After reading and reviewing her picture book, I was very excited to learn more about Linda and hear about her journey in watercolour painting. She also shares some details of other projects she’s working on and if they have seen any more otters at their pond.
Just a quick disclaimer to let you know that this post contains a few spoilers.
Q: Tell me about the true story of Otto the otter. Was the family in the grey house your family?
A: Yes, the family in the grey house is my husband and me. We didn’t know it when we bought our home, but there is a retention pond next to our home. We assumed this was communal property to our subdivision. Two days, prior to closing, we discovered that we own the pond and the property upon which it sits. It was the most amazing and wonderful surprise.
Q: What inspired you to write and illustrate a picture book? Is It something you have always wanted to do?
A: I painted my senior year in high school and have never painted since. My husband and I moved to Largo, Florida seven and a half years ago when I retired. I was the executive director of a non-profit. When people knew I was going to retire they all asked what I was going to do with myself and I said, “I didn’t know, maybe paint?” Four years ago I started taking watercolor classes. Writing was never, ever on my radar. When Opal showed up with the pups last spring (2021), my friend/neighbor urged/nagged me to write a book. I told her I had no idea how to write a book, but to have her stop nagging me (!), I created the book.
Q: The illustrations in Otto the Otter are vivid and beautiful. Tell me a little bit about your journey in watercolour painting.
A: I started taking watercolor lessons as I, naively, thought this would be the easiest of mediums. It is NOT! It is considered to be the most difficult. I love art and going to art museums. I don’t like classic art, but prefer the work from the impressionist period forward. My style is often filled with bold color and though my work is not abstract, it is often thought of as being like the work done by the Fauve artists of Paris, a group of early 20th-century modern artists whose works emphasized painterly qualities and strong color over the representational or realistic values retained by other artists.
My style is often filled with bold color and though my work is not abstract, it is often thought of as being like the work done by the Fauve artists of Paris.Linda Hansen, Author & Illustrator
Q: What was the biggest challenge for you in bringing this book together?
A: Everything… learning about things I had no knowledge of. The journey to self-publish can be overwhelming with all the details that are involved. Now, since I have had the book on Amazon since February 1 and have beautiful offset books that I had printed for me to sell on my own, the work is all about marketing. Calling schools to do readings, calling libraries and asking them to have the book available, contacting stores, book clubs, and on and on… I read a book that said if you don’t have a plan to market your book there is no sense in writing it in the first place! I say if I don’t knock on doors and ask, I can’t be told ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It is all about asking. It has almost become a full-time job!
Q: Where is Otto now? Have there been any more otter sightings at the pond? Perhaps Otto’s children or grandchildren?!
A: We see two otters fairly often. We assume they are the pups, but they have no distinguishing markings so we can’t tell. They are not here as often as when they were little, but we see them about every four to six weeks. When they do come, they usually come for several days in a row, and then we won’t see them again for a while. About six weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, they arrived around 8 a.m. and stayed until 10:30 a.m. My husband, Gary, and I sat outside the entire time watching them and taking pictures. When they left, we went into our home to have a late breakfast. They came back around 1:30 p.m. and then stayed until almost 3 p.m., and ‘yes’, we were outside then as well.
Q: What is your favourite picture book of all time and why?
A: Oh, my! This is impossible to answer. First, you need to understand that I am OLD! I will be 78 on July 26. Picture books were not a big thing back then. And, this was right at the end of WWII and people didn’t have money for things like this. I do remember I had two books when I was very young, they were books and they also had records. One was the story of Bill & Coo, about two birds and their community of birds. A big bad raven would come and attack them. I remember thinking it was scary. The other one was about Rapunzel. I loved it. There was a song that was sung, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair’. I can still hear it all these many years later. I had a dog named Cassie, who we had to let go of as she was ill, two and a half years ago. Her full name was Cassandra and I used to sing to her, ‘Cassandra, Cassandra, let down your golden hair’. She was a beautiful bichon frise and they are white.
Q: What would be your advice to someone who wants to publish their first picture book?
A: Do your homework. Go to the library and to bookstores to see what is out there and learn what people are reading and buying. Have a plan in mind.
Q: What is next for you as an author/illustrator? Do you have any projects on the horizon?
A: I had said that I was going to be a ‘one and done’ author, but people keep asking me for another book. Our pond is amazing and we have identified over 33 species of birds and ducks that come to visit. I have an idea for a book about this and I would like to include Otto, but I don’t have a storyline for it. I attempted to write something, but it was almost like a textbook and no child would want to read it. I have written the basic manuscript for another book called ‘Little Boy Lost’. It is about a little dog we found last October on our street, the effort we made to find his owners, and when we couldn’t, how we found him a new forever home. My editor has already read it and thinks it is wonderful. I need to paint 16 paintings for the books (!) and am so busy trying to market Otto that I haven’t taken the time to do so. Sometime soon, I hope.
Linda Hansen on Instagram @lindapurple_author
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