What was your inspiration for creating the brand Mutasia?
Suzanne: We created Mutasia for several reasons. First off, we wanted to create a brand that we would’ve loved as kids. Secondly, it was really important to us to embrace and celebrate what makes each child unique. That’s why all the characters are mixed-up mixes of different animals. We wanted the characters to represent the individuality that each child possesses.
Can you explain the land of Mutasia, and some of its inhabitants?
Ryan: Mutasia is an island where all the characters are a mix of two or more animals. So we have our main character, Figley, who’s part possum, part cow and part bird. His friends are just as mixed-up as he is, like Billie Penicorn, who’s a penguin-leopard-narwhal mix, and Chadwick, who’s a cheetah-elephant-frog. There’s also a bunch of exotic wildlife everywhere you look, and it’s a lot of fun to design all these crazy critters. Kids just love inspecting them and guessing what kinds of animals they’re a mix of! It’s been so rewarding to see kids interacting with our books and really thinking creatively and getting the wheels in their heads spinning!
How did you approach writing ‘Figley’s Search for the Perfect Pet’?
Suzanne: We knew two things off the bat; we wanted to showcase our unique critters and we wanted to include a message about appreciating the things around you. So, we did some brainstorming and came up with a skeleton plot.
Ryan: Afterwards, we filled that loose outline with funny gags that would move the story forward visually. We tried to envision scenarios that children would enjoy. And we love the challenge of creating situations that are relatable and recognizable to kids, but also have fantastical elements happening at the same time. Once we settled on that, we started writing the draft and illustrating the pictures!
We understand Suzanne you are the voice of Figley, and Ryan, you are the voice of Chadwick. Is the audio version of the book read in the different character voices, can you explain?
Ryan: We have a wonderful cast that voices all our characters in our animations and music albums. When we were producing the audio book we decided there wasn’t enough actual dialogue in the book to warrant bringing everyone in to record their parts. Instead we had Suzanne, in her own voice, narrate the story. It came together really well and we are really proud of our audio book. It has fun music and hilarious animal sounds and sound effects that really bring it to life and make it an immersive experience!
There are plenty of Mutasian characters to choose from on the island of Mutasia. How did you decide which of them would star in this new story?
Suzanne: From the beginning, Figley was designed to be the ‘every kid,’ the character that really represents our readers. He’s observing the world and colorful characters through the perspective of a young elementary school-aged kid. He’s imperfect, he makes mistakes, he has a lot to learn. But he’s also curious and constantly finding out who he is and what he wants to be, just like kids are. This story was a great vehicle for him to explore his passion and share it with his friends, make mistakes and learn a lesson.
Can you explain the message you would like to leave with the reader?
Ryan: The message in the book is about having an optimistic perspective.
Suzanne: Exactly! It’s about learning to see the good in, and appreciating, the people (and things) in your life, and not taking them for granted.
Aside from books, Mutasia has a variety of other children’s products. Can you tell us a little more about them?
Ryan: Yeah, we have an animated DVD, “The Mish Mash Bash.” It’s an awesome showcase for our characters and the world we’ve created, and it’s filled with adventure, comedy, and some really catchy songs. Our album, Nature Calls, which is available digitally or on good old-fashioned CD, is amazing. It’s upbeat and really, really funny.
Suzanne: One of the things we hear most often from parents is how much THEY are enjoying listening to our music with their kids! They’re so relieved to have kid’s songs playing that aren’t annoying and repetitive, and there’s lots of humor and references that go over the kids’ heads but the parents get it. And we can’t leave out our cuddly stuffed animals! They’re great quality and the kids are obsessed with them. We have a lot of parents send us pictures of their kids holding them and sleeping with them! We love that feedback!
Do you have any other books coming out soon that children can look forward to?
Ryan: We are actually working on our follow-up book RIGHT NOW, and we’re super excited about it! It’s definitely the funniest book we’ve written so far. Hopefully the kids will be laughing so hard they don’t notice they’re learning a lesson!
Thanks for visiting with us today, Suzanne and Ryan!
Where are you originally from? What brought you to the US?
I am originally from Calcutta, India, a city made somewhat infamous first by the controversial Black Hole of Calcutta and later by a novel, The City of Joy. Mother Theresa’s heart-felt activities for the dying and destitute finally put the city on everyone’s map of the world. Actually, it is a city that thrives with writers, musicians and artists and has produced three Nobel laureates (literature, peace, and economics) and musicians like Ravi Shankar and film directors like Satyajit Ray. So I am happy to be from Calcutta, now called Kolkata.
I came to the U.S. to do graduate study in physics. This was possible because the University of Pennsylvania provided me with a teaching assistantship that paid the tuition and money to live in Philadelphia.
What was the inspiration for Viku and the Elephant?
When they were young, our two sons loved to hear stories from India. Stories from far away India were mysterious and fascinating – stories of monkeys who throw fruits at you or snakes who hang like vines are indeed fascinating. I invented the character of Viku to entertain them. Viku grew up near a jungle and he was never afraid of animals. He was also a good boy. I think my sons associated with Viku as a hero and wanted to hear more of his adventures. They’d ask me to repeat the stories over and over again. Many years later, I thought that if my sons liked Viku, perhaps other children would also. So I wrote up the first story. Another thing that inspired me to write about Viku was that in my volunteer tutoring of school children I found that children here are unaware of the outside world and of other cultures. But the world is getting smaller and these children will grow up and likely interact and work with people from around the world. I want them to know about other cultures through simple stories.
How do you view human and animal interactions? Is it possible to truly be an animal’s friend?
Children growing up in India learn a lot from animal stories such as the Panchatantra and Jataka tales, where animals are portrayed as intelligent beings having human-like feelings. These children grow up sympathetic and respectful of animals. They do not, in general, think of animals as soulless beings and their first instinct is to not kill an animal, but rather to appreciate it. The predominant Hindu culture also supports this, as each god or goddess has a specific animal associated with them. For example, the elephant-headed god, Ganesh, is always portrayed with a mouse sitting at his feet. In this upbringing, human and animal interactions are gentle and friendly. There is little violence in this picture – certainly no interest in killing an animal to have it mounted on a wall. Now, this is a mental image, and cannot be true in the real world with wild animals. I am as afraid of predatory animals as anyone else! However, we know very little about wild animals. What do the animals think of humans? We do not know.
Domesticated animals, on the other hand, are a different story. Human beings can certainly be their friends, and the interesting thing is that animals can also be friends to humans. Dogs and dolphins have rescued and helped many people. Where would humans be without the help of domesticated cows and horses? We train dogs and elephants to do our work. Through our interactions with pets we learn empathy, trust, caring for others, and many such social values. They help us in to be better human beings.
My cat, Dooshtoo (the name means naughty), was waiting outside the door of my study until my wife let her in. She comes to me and when I say, “Come,” she climbs on my lap and sits with me while I write. She nudges me occasionally to pat her. If this is not friendship, I don’t know what else it could be between a man and a cat.
Viku and Haatee face evil men, successfully thwarting their actions. What advice would you give kids facing problems in their own lives?
Viku could not have defeated the ivory thieves without the help of his elephant friend, Haatee. This was possible for two reasons: first, he understood his friend very well even though Haatee couldn’t talk; and secondly Haatee was very smart. Viku tried to plead with the bandits, but that did not work. Viku and Haatee did the best thing they could do at the time. Viku did not know how their problem would be solved, but he kept his mind open and in the end a solution emerged. They came out victorious.
So when you face difficulties, big or small, do not give in to fear, keep your wits – your intelligence. Try your best not to feel despair or hopeless. Then firmly remember that good will always win over evil in the end. A solution will emerge. Make the best decision you can make and search for other solutions – always keep your mind open for a new way to get out of the problem. If you give up or cave in, no help can come to you.
Do not hide away from problems such as someone bullying you or telling you something that you do not like or want to do; talk with friends and adults – with more than one adult if possible. Do not remain silent and keep your problems inside you. Many problems will go away if you are able to talk with someone.
Your book is set in India, which is an important element of the story. Would you like to share with us a special Indian holiday tradition or a memory of an important event?
‘Thirteen festivals in twelve months’ is a common saying in India. So growing up in India with many festivities is wonderful. And in my childhood (in the fifties) when all vegetables and fish were not available throughout the year, the festivals brought new meanings with different food items and sweets. For example, tomatoes, cauliflower, peas, etc. came only in winter in India and, similarly, summer brought other vegetables (some still not available in the U.S.) and fruits such as mango, litchi, etc. Mothers made different sweets for different festivals and we looked forward to those times and treats.
I will write about one festival today – kite flying day – when the sky fills up with kites of all colors. It is a day all boys and many men get very excited about. There will be kite fights that everyone prepares for many days before the festival. The trick is to make your kite string sharp and knife-like by pasting glass powder on it with special glue. When the string is dried in the sun, it can easily cut your fingers, so one has to be careful during kite flying. You can bring your kite near any other kite in the sky and go under or over its thread and cut the opponent’s string by pulling your string very fast. Of course, we develop expertise in maneuvering a kite in the sky. We could move it in any direction very quickly. No one can complain about a kite fight, especially on kite flying day, and the defeated kite falls down – free for anyone to grab it. Running after a falling kite is also great fun. Once running with a group of boys, I caught the string of a falling kite, but alas, a taller person caught the string above me and ran away with it. Finder’s keepers. We usually fly kites from the roof (buildings have flat roofs – with a short wall around the roof top patio) and also from the ground, and what fun kite-flying is! In the eastern part of India, kite-flying day is the day of worship of the god who is the patron of engineering.
Have you written other books, or are there any in the works?
I wrote a creative non-fiction book, From the Ganges to the Snake River – an East Indian in the American West, which was first published by Idaho State University and later by Caxton Press in 2000. It is autobiographical and is based on my experience in Idaho. The book interweaves Indian culture with North American reality. A reviewer said, “It gives a tender, often amusing account of a stranger in a strange land. With each piece I found myself laughing out loud and curious to read more…” Four chapters from this book were reprinted (from all publications by Rendezvous from 1966 – 2005) by the Idaho State University Department of English and Philosophy in their Memorial volume titled Rendezvous: Forty years of History, Politics and Literature of the West.
My next book will be a sequel to “Viku and the Elephant” and is tentatively called “Viku Comes to the Rescue.” Hopefully it will come out in 2012. Themes of this story entail a spirit of not giving up, perseverance, cleverness, and punishment of the bad guys.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I grew up with stories – all kinds of stories – animal stories, scary stories where female demons eat people up, ghost stories, mythological stories, and stories of gods and goddesses. Many of these stories teach good ethical values – primarily compassion and right things to do. The world is getting smaller and when the children of today grow up, they will meet and work with people from different parts of the world. I’d like our children to read stories from different lands so they will better understand other cultures and points of view. Viku and the Elephant is one such story. I wish all children read it.
Thanks for visiting with us today, Debu!
What was your inspiration for writing Touched By the Light?
It certainly wasn’t the story I had intended to sit down and write, but after having given up work to look after my mother, within three months I found myself ‘home alone’. In between sorting all the things that follow a death in the family, and handling all the stages that go with the grieving process, I sat down to write. It filled my mind, and the hours until my husband came home from work and we could comfort each other.
So part of my day with filled with sadness and tears; the other part was filled with what is quite an intricate storyline, viewed from the perspective of five of the characters to varying degrees. It is essentially a romance. But it is a romance working on two levels, life and ‘the other side’. And yet I wouldn’t say it was ‘sad’ in any way, it is a romance which just happens to have psychic connections. Several of the incidents featured in the book are things that I have experienced in real life.
Have you ever experienced a psychic connection with another person or a particular place?
Yes. How often? More times than I can count on two hands! We have had thirteen different homes, from brand new houses, to several old cottages and a 250 year old Stone Lodge. The worst experience I had was in a property that we didn’t own and it was less than 20 years old!
Two years ago, a chance visit to an evening of Clairvoyance triggered a re-run in my head of experiences I’d had stretching back to early childhood. Things I hadn’t consciously linked or thought about, suddenly became clear – as if it was being shown to me. I wrote ‘Being A Sceptic Is Oh So Easy’ after that experience and it is available from Amazon on Kindle. It’s not something I’ve ‘launched’ or advertised extensively, because it’s just a collection of personal experiences and opinions. It includes amazing things that happened when my parents died (five years apart) that went a long way to turning me from a sceptic (even though I’d had experiences) into a believer.
What do you think might make someone more likely to have a supernatural experience?
The answer is I don’t know. I have dismissed so many things that have happened, because afterwards I convinced myself it was just imagination – that always worked for me. It was convenient and meant I didn’t have to think about what the implication might be if it was real. Then there are some things you just can’t ignore – if something touches you for instance. And finally, the thing that makes you groan inwardly – you share the experience with someone else, someone you trust implicitly so you can’t just turn your back on it. My husband was an even greater sceptic than I was, until we shared a few simultaneous experiences in a couple of our homes. It was a little uncomfortable and took us a while to adjust to talking openly to each other about it. Before that the whole subject was taboo!
I think perhaps some people are more ‘open’ than others, but then my own mother was a firm non-believer, with strong Catholic roots. But on a couple of occasions we discussed things that she herself had witnessed. One house we lived in we had to move because of the problems, and whilst she was prepared to tell me what she had experienced there whilst baby-sitting, she still walked away saying she didn’t believe in any of it!
Do you believe in life after death, and the ability to communicate beyond the grave?
Yes. I base this on nothing other than what I have seen, felt and heard. I obviously know a little about the subject, and I did research for Touched By The Light, but I am not an expert and I am certainly not a trained psychic or medium. I have asked for validation and proof from loved ones, because it is hard to let go of your scepticism, no matter what you experience. Your mind tells you it must be wishful thinking, simply because you don’t want to have to let go. What I received in return though, was one indisputable physical encounter and messages through two different mediums from both my mother and father that were unique and astounding.
When bits of conversation you’ve had prior to leaving your home are repeated by a medium you have never met before, it makes you sit up and listen. Then when that person is being ‘led around your current home’ and is being given a running narrative about the building and interior by someone on the other side – it’s bizarre. But it was my father proving to me that even though we’d had three different homes since his death, he was still there with us! The medium in question told me he had never had a spirit do this before and my father made reference to the fireplace in the sitting room of the cottage we lived in at the time. He told the medium ‘she hates that fireplace’. He was right – it was the first thing I said when we bought the property ‘I hate that fireplace, it has to go!’ and it did shortly afterwards.
Trivial? Yes, totally. But something that if it had been said to someone else, would be easily refutable – it’s either true, or it’s not! So if it wasn’t a real ‘message’, it was probably not the best thing to ‘throw in’ as it wasn’t ‘general’ enough to be safe! You see, the sceptic in me is always looking at all angles! But I can say that I now have a totally different view of life and the afterlife.
You’ve recently launched the website loveahappyending.com. Can you tell us a little about the site?
It’s a new concept – an interactive Reader/Author website which features 30 new Authors. It’s a way for readers to get to know an author as their career develops and to get actively involved. Associate Readers who link with, and support our authors, are a part of the team and everyone works together. As a new Author, to have someone to read your work and give you reviews, to call upon to be test readers of things that are not published and to have support via social media, is such a boost.
Our authors range in age group from 20’s to 80’s, we represent a wide range of genres and geographical split around the world. We’re out to prove that for authors without the benefit of a large advertising budget behind them, READERS do have the power to launch someone’s career. The way we look at it, every time a reader buys a book they are ‘voting’, we’d like them to ‘vote’ and link up with our new Authors. We are serious, but it is also about having fun – life’s too short!
Do you have any other books that you’re currently working on?
I have three completed manuscripts and the next one to be released will probably be ‘The Quintessential Gemini’. It’s a fun romance about a woman in her forties, who lives her single, professional life according to her daily horoscope. She is suddenly made redundant and the bottom falls out of her world. The astrologer she follows is becoming a world-wide celebrity and hands over the daily forecasts to a new guy – that’s when the fun begins……
Thanks for visiting with us today, Linn!
You can find Linn B. Halton on the web at:
Q – What was the inspiration for The Witch, the Cat and the Egg?
A – I’ve always loved magic, wizards, witches and dragons. I’m not quite sure why – I guess because they are “magical” and with magic anything is possible. Juliane, the witch, is a mixture of many female characters that I loved in books and Disney movies. She’s happy, kind, loves to help others and is friends with all the magical creatures of the forest. When I was a young girl, I wished that I could talk to animals. I still do!
Q – Which character is your favorite and why?
A – That’s a really tough question. I like all the characters in the book. If I had to pick only one, I’d have to say Magicus, since I named him after my own black cat Black Magic. My cat Magic is very timid, so I made Magicus more confident and adventurous.
Q – Juliane believes it’s important to care for the creatures of the forest and the environment. How is this reflected in your own life?
A – I love animals. If I didn’t have allergies, I probably would have lived on a farm. I also love walking in the woods. We have a small forest behind our house (we live in the country). It’s a place where I go to meditate. It’s my magical place.
Q – Magicus the cat is one of Juliane’s companions. Do you share your home with any special animals?
A – Yes I do. I have two cats – Black Magic and a grey cat named Minx, as well as a dog named Kato. You can see pictures of them on my website at www.topysbooks.com under “About us/About the Author.”
Q – What is the message you’d like kids to take away from reading this book?
A – My motto is “Dare to imagine and believe in the magic of possibilities!” I want kids to believe that anything is possible. Even when they think they might not be able to do something, they should always feel that they can call on friends and family to help.
Q – Do you have any other books coming?
A – My second book is Kaptain Vamp. I thought it would be fun to write a story about vampires for kids. It was a bit of a challenge to take this theme and make it positive. I’m very happy with the results, and my test readers like it.
The book is about a young vampire named Allistaire, who is also part human, who wants to change the fact that humans are afraid and distrustful of vampires. His family has been living among humans for hundreds of years and they’ve always used their abilities for good. One day, while reading his favourite superhero comic, Allistaire decides that he’s going to do everything he can to help humans. He enlists the aid of his best friend Rich to help him become Kaptain Vamp. The illustrator, Amy Rottinger, is finishing up the images. I’m aiming to have the book out as an Ebook in July or August and in print by September. There will be sequels to The Witch, the Cat and the Egg and Kaptain Vamp next year.
Q – Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
A – When I started writing stories for children, I decided that I would write the kinds of books that leave my readers feeling good and wanting more; that also leave them with a smile on their faces. They are the type of books that you can read to kids before they go to bed that will help them have good dreams!
An Ebook and audio version of the Witch book will be released in June 2011. Kids can download images from the book to color and learn words taken from the book in 5 different languages. Check out the “Fun Stuff” tab on the website.
I hope that new readers will make Topsy Books part of their reading collection.
Thanks for reading.
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