Natalie Meraki is a writer and illustrator of children’s books. She lives on the West Coast of the USA but has moved around quite a bit. What does she like about where she is now, and is there anything she misses about any of the other places she has lived in?
Yes, I have moved around quite a bit! My mom liked to move about every two years. I’ve lived all over the California Central Valley, and all over Montana!
When I was 12 we lived in a tent in Montana in the middle of the bitter-cold winter while we attempted to build a log home from our 20 acres.
We chopped the straightest trees, and hacked the still freshly sap-glued bark from their bodies, through a solid four months of miserable, blizzarding weather.
Eventually the neighbors came and informed us that trees need to dry and shrink and twist for a year before you can build a home with them, and that we’d basically wasted all of our efforts. We were about one-third of the way done, and scrapped the whole project. It’s ghost probably still sits there, in the Bull Mountains, near Roundup, MT. I wonder if it ever thinks of me…
And that is why I HATE snow!
So, yes, I would say that I like where I live in the Pacific Northwest now very much. It’s basically a rain forest. A green on, on green, on green, lush, woodland dream. It snows for only 1 week a year, and all of the businesses and schools close, so we can stay home, safe from the extremely minor winter peril. I LOVE rain.
My home is covered by complete tree-canopy, and stays shady and cool all summer. My wonderful cat, Myra, brings me the heads of any poor mice that dare trespass our boundary. She also guards the family from malevolent energy beings, and ushers in the fairies and Bigfoot for my 3 year old son, Maxwell, to enjoy tea parties with. The Pacific Northwest is home of the Bigfoot. They visit our place for the Cherpumple ( 3 pies; apple, cherry and pumpkin, stacked on each other and then baked inside a massive spice-cake.) Bigfoot love Cherpumple.
Maybe I’m being stubborn, but I do not miss anything about any place I’ve lived before, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the future. Not in this reality, at least.
On her Amazon author page, Natalie describes herself as a ‘weirdo’. What does she mean by that?
Many people may not like it, but a weirdo is true first to themselves. Now, I believe it is the responsibility of each human being, including a weirdo, to always be conscious of their relationship to the individuals one perceives around them, and to make some attempt to understand and empathize with these other positions, and our relationships to one another; but ultimately, everything in each of our lives begins and ends within each of us. I am the creator of my universe and I owe it to myself to live by my codes, and so do each of us, to form a healthy and well balanced collective around us. Change starts from within. It starts with pure authenticity and emanates outward. Weirdos change the world. I respect them for it, and I try to live in my own weirdness every day.
In my children’s book, The Shiny Bee, the main character isn’t sure what she is or where she belongs, until a kindred spirit shows her some cute micro-macro connections between herself and the universe, and she realizes that she is truly at home, wherever, as whatever she is. A weirdo is at home in themselves. I wanted to say they’re at home in their skin, but that makes it sound like a suit humans wear. A skin-suit. Weird.
I wondered what inspired her to write her latest book for children, ChehalemValley Children’s Play. Is it purely entertainment or does it carry an important message?
Chehalem Valley Children’s Play is a kid’s picture-book about kindness. I feel like kindness is almost a controversial issue these days. Kindness knows no gender, politics, religion, race, borders…it is a basic human trait within each of us. But you hear people saying “Cut these people out of your life.” And “They get what they deserve.” Pretty easy things to say when you’re “on top.”
I was considering the plot of The Little Red Hen. The hen does all the work, so she keeps all the profit. Sure, it’s a simple connection to make. Cause and effect, but what are the consequences of the consequences we impose? If the wheel is to reverse into a positive direction we should work towards acceptance of those around us, and the struggles we are all going through.
Chehalem Valley Children’s Play takes a classic story idea a step further. What can we accomplish together? When people aren’t pulling their weight, should we cut them off from the rest of the group, or hold them closer, setting an example of love and support?
In the book, the main character is a real “spoiled brat”. When she falls from glory, her victims definitely could have told her to get lost, but they show her how kindness is done, and what we can accomplish with it, together, as loving and supportive individuals.
It’s something to consider. The book also features; bright and beautiful, fall, watercolor art, giggle-worthy instances of tragedy, and strange looking people with non-definable hands and feet.
The book’s “N’ Hair” experience is a true story from high-school! I lost my eyebrows to a well-known-hair-removal cream incident. I drew them on every day, but I was on the swim team, so everyone always made fun of me with my swim cap head and no eye-brows. Haha!
Chehalem Valley is the beautiful Pacific Northwest Valley that I am very thankful to be living in. The book’s artwork is inspired by the valley’s vivid color and thick foliage.
Does she, like Emma Donohue, test her juvenile writing on her own children?
The test for any children’s book is if the child exclaims “Again!” after reading. All of my books must pass at least 9 out of 10 “Again” tests, bonus points for parental requests.
My son’s “Again!” books (besides mine) are:
Think a Thank, by Trisha DeGrave Fontaine
Rainbow Monsters by Sylva Fae, and
Night-Night Portland by Katherine Sully
My “Again!” book is The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Skieszka
Natalie has illustrated at least one children’s book for another author. Was that something she enjoyed? Would she do it again?
Illustration is my favorite part of the children’s book creation process at the moment. I also just went digital. After 33 years of strictly pen and paint on paper, alas, the Apple Pencil and it’s pressure sensitivity was created, finally giving me what I needed to make the switch. Thanks to the combined forces of the iPad, Apple Pencil, and Procreate artist’s app I am now strictly a digital artist!
Digital art has really blown my artistic possibilities world wide open! Maybe a little too open with Chehalem Valley Children’s Play, but I’m honing that in for the next book, still perfecting my style. I’m completely self-taught, in true weirdo fashion.
That being said, I believe there are no certifications in creativity. It is a subjective, and life long growth process. If someone loved my work and requested that I work with them, I would be absolutely thrilled to do so!
I wondered if she has any plans to write for adults? Or maybe teens/young adults as her own children mature?
I absolutely plan to write for adults and young adults! Sci-fi is in my soul.
I wake up in the morning with full movies, complete with music score, playing in my dreams. I’ve recorded many of them in my journal and am brimming with ideas!
They’re sure to escape into our reality soon.
Asked where she sees herself in ten years time she says – with, I think, her tongue placed firmly in her cheek:
I see myself napping in front of a crackling fireplace, covered in my unsold books used as blankets. I’m fine with this. This is fine.
How does she fit her writing and illustrating into her daily routine?
Usually I do my writing and illustrating during my son’s nap time. That’s two hours of creativity therapy that keeps me sane.
She describes her favorite place for working, pictured here, and her work process:
During the summer I get out my artist’s tent in the backyard. I love working closer to nature, and the wind whispers her ideas to me through the trees, when she’s feeling opinionated. My cat lounges in the netting above, shedding a hair on my nose now and then.
In both my writing and illustration processes, I just start with whatever comes to mind. Then I go through and make notes about what I’ve created, and the micro-macro balance of my work. The big picture of it all, and then how that concept is represented in the details.
I will have more information on this method, and other creativity starters in my upcoming publication Life is Magic: A Metaphysical Activity Book for the Young at Heart, which gives a quick, fun overview of esoterica via lesson pages, journal prompts, coloring pages, quotes, tips and more. A taste of all the things that make life magical. Be sure to subscribe to my website if this interests you and I’ll let you know when the book is released!
Some of her young readers and their parents might be surprised to know that sometimes she performs rap songs at karaoke.