How an anxiety attack turned into inspiration for Jennifer Renieris’ first children’s book, Hawk Eyes
It can be in moments of darkness and fear that we find the inspiration to turn our life around. An instance that shifts our perspective in such a profound way urges us to forge a new path. It was while struggling with debilitating anxiety that author Jennifer Renieris experienced such an ‘aha’ moment. A hawk landed in her yard, and the symbolism of this simple moment shifted her perspective on life, providing the inspiration for her first children’s book, Hawk Eyes. Read about Jennifer’s inspiring journey and insight into the world of children’s publishing in our February author of the month feature.
The hawk’s ability to fly high, and keen eyesight, allows it to see the bigger picture, a new point of view, and a different perspective.
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up and still live in Southern Ontario.
Since high school, I have only ever been self-employed in various avenues, from agriculture to green energy.
I had never viewed myself as a creative person. From my first ideas, to writing, to taking the leap to publish, each phase was a baby step up to the completion of book one, Hawk Eyes. Books two and three have unfolded with the ease of a new found love in the creative and productive process.
I enjoy living with my blended family which includes three children, two cats, and a puppy. The puppy, Daisy, was an impulse buy while riding the high of my first book being finished and romanticizing my character of Aunt B, the Westie.
Our home is supportive and, besides the critters, very peaceful. This supportive, stress-free environment has allowed me to open up to this new path and self-discovery. I have a house full of like-minded people to bounce ideas off.
I love to travel. It is a great way to learn about other people and cultures. Life has so much to share and to savour.
2. What inspired you to become a children’s author? What was the inspiration behind Hawk Eyes?
I have worn many hats over the years. From managing my family to managing multiple businesses. Most of my time has been spent just getting &#$! done. Being stretched too thin paired with an unhealthy relationship can have its repercussions, and it did. I began having debilitating anxiety. I had no choice but to finally pay attention to my self-care. To feed and settle my spirit, I began journalling.
It was during one of our usually long winters, as I sat journaling, trying to abate an anxiety attack and praying for a reality shift from a particular situation, that a hawk landed in my yard right in front of me, then left. I had never seen a hawk in my yard before this. My curiosity was triggered, I needed to know more about hawks. Mainly I wanted to know if they were known to fly away with household pets. One of the fascinating articles that popped up was about hawk symbolism. I came to learn that hawk symbolism, among many other aspects, included perspective. This was a huge ‘aha’ moment for me. The hawk’s ability to fly high, and keen eyesight, allows it to see the bigger picture, a new point of view, and a different perspective. “Look at the BIG picture and remember why you are doing what you are doing,” I heard loud and clear. This was a huge ‘AHA’ moment for me; I felt incredible relief.
How amazing would this be if I could share this experience, translate it into something children could relate to, I thought.
If you change the way you look at something, it can change what you see and can change how you feel about it.
I used this experience to challenge myself to tackle something creative. My intention was to take this ‘aha’ moment, using animal symbolism, and translate it into a story that children could relate to.
3. What message are you sharing in each of your three books? What do you hope children will walk away with?
In book one, Hawk Eyes, I use the symbolism of a hawk flying high, seeing a different point of view, a bigger picture, to share the message of perspective. If we change the way we look at something, it can change what we see and can change the way we feel about it.
In book two, A Buck and a Puck, I use the symbolism of a buck, a male deer. He is very strong, yet he is gentle and graceful. His grace and kindness are his strengths. I wanted the reader to see that showing kindness to others, especially when we are frustrated, shows how strong we are on the inside.
Book three, My Fine Feathers, is about embracing our uniqueness that shines from within. I use the Scarlet Macaw as my feature creature. Her bright primary colours scream at us to be unapologetically bold and beautiful just as we are.
The main message I hope resonates with people sharing my stories, is that we always have a choice. We have a choice in how we look at any situation, a choice in how we treat others and a choice to celebrate our uniqueness, and that of others. This is empowering.
4. What writing and publishing lessons did you learn after completing each children’s book?
One of the best lessons I have learned from years of being self-employed is the importance of delegating. I can understand the process of converting DC to AC electricity for green energy production, but I wouldn’t try to rewire the inverters that do this.
My point being, I knew next to nothing about the world of publishing. I didn’t know what an ISBN was. I really had to embrace a growth mindset and the importance of delegating tasks to those trained in specific areas.
Book one, Hawk Eyes, like any firstborn, brought a wealth of discovery and more unknowns. From being new to and navigating the world of social media to creating and participating in public events, I have had to find my voice, confidence and some courage.
Creating is the fun part, advertising and marketing, meh, not so much. I am very glad that I did not try to publish this book on my own. I really appreciate the job Tellwell did in creating a professional product I am very proud of. The positive feedback I have received, along with the Mom’s Choice Award, has been a reinforcement of my decision to follow this path.
A Buck and a Puck was written before Hawk Eyes was published. Unfortunately, I remember little of the publishing process. Most edits and decisions were made from my phone, in a hospital room while my father was deteriorating. The book was not my focus. Thankfully the team at Tellwell produced a book I love and am proud of.
5. Is there anything you would do differently?
Of course. Hindsight is 20/20; when you know better you do better… all of those sayings.
I have learned that if your illustrator’s name is not on the book cover, people assume you can draw. This is one of the questions I get asked the most. I have also learned some expensive lessons trying to manage marketing and advertising. But I have to take the lesson from my own book and have some perspective. I can focus on a bigger picture and hope that investments made will contribute somehow down the road.
6. What advice do you have for aspiring children’s authors?
The creative side that happens alone at home was the fun part for me, the rest, I find daunting. Ask lots of questions. I have found that children’s authors are some of the loveliest people. I continue to reach out and ask for advice and most are very willing to share their experiences.
7. What have you been doing to market and promote your book?
Creating a social media presence has been an effective way to put myself and my work out there while interacting with like-minded people.
I find book events are essential in creating community connections and content for social media. I am not a big fan of having the attention on me, so I like to make my events about giving back to the community.
I did three Indigo events for Hawk Eyes where I invited the local raptor sanctuary. Having the hawks and owls present really created a bridge for conversations with people in the stores. I donated part of the book sale proceeds from these events to the Mounstberg Raptor Sanctuary.
Last fall, leading into the Christmas season, I did three library events promoting A Buck and a Puck called Score One for Kindness. I then did two in Buffalo with Sabertooth from the Buffalo Sabres, the proceeds benefiting the Oishei Children’s Hospital, and one in West Lincoln Ontario with Bruiser from the Hamilton Bulldogs, benefiting Community Care. These events were very successful. They were promoted heavily through local papers and media, some with the aid of a pricey publicist, some through my own efforts.
I am presently doing a handful of school visits with book sale proceeds going to a local children’s hospice.
I have personally found that pricey giveaways, Google ads and paying high booking fees, lack immediate results. I am hopeful that some exposure from any avenues I have invested my time and money in, will come to be of some benefit.
8. What do you feel are three essential elements a good kids’ book should have?
In my experience through sharing my work with families, I have found that the elements adults and children resonate predominantly around are:
- Connection: Children want to share with me what they have connected with in my stories – what they related to – from understanding how Lulu is feeling, to playing hockey, or that they also have a dog.
- Engaging with both conflict and a happy ending. Following the first element, if a child finds a connection to a story they can feel comfort in knowing that any conflict or contrast is manageable and will unfold into a happy resolution.
- Authentic message. For me, I like to share some empowering life tools that have served me. If I am authentic and speak from my truth, this will resonate.
9. What has the response been to your books?
It is humbling to have received such a positive response and support for my work. I knew my mother would be supportive, lol, but having teachers share that they have used my books to fit into lesson plans surrounding anxiety and bullying is not something I ever envisioned. When parents or caregivers let me know that their little ones choose my stories at bedtime, my heart is full.
10. You received the Mom’s Choice Award for your first book, Hawk Eyes. Congratulations! Can you share with us how that came about and your reaction when you found out the news?
Thank you. In my attempt to navigate the world of children’s literature I came across the Mom’s Choice Awards site and decided to apply. I am absolutely thrilled to be recognized as a Mom’s Choice Award recipient. My intention was to have my stories resonate with other people so this award reinforces my decision, to not only publish my book but also to put myself out there.
11. You are currently working on your third book. When do you hope to have it available for purchase?
I am hoping to have My Fine Feathers available for the start of the school year. I am excited to share the message of self-love it promotes.
12. What are your future plans for writing, marketing, and otherwise?
I want to learn more about distribution and marketing. Presently I am focusing on redoing my website and dipping my toes into advertising with a parent’s magazine, digital and print.
I love watching other children’s authors’ journeys unfold. They are not only entertaining but also inspire me to ask questions and to try new things. Writing started as a self-care process and it has taken a back seat to marketing. I intend to give back to myself by devoting regular time to writing. I really miss the quiet creative process. I have so many book ideas rattling around in my head and heart, I cannot wait to see them escape and unfold.
Connect with Jennifer