Author Spotlight – H. L. Ott

September 3, 2019

Read about author H. L. Ott and find out the inspiration behind the story of Sneezy the Squirrel!

What inspired you to write Sneezy the Squirrel?

When I was eight years old, I discovered my purpose in life.  I was asked by my teacher to write a poem, something that had meaning to me, then share it with the class.  The poem was short, called “Pencils”. Odd, but it had a lot of meaning for me.

When I was four, I was diagnosed with a rare eye condition called Optic Nerve Hypoplasia.  It left me legally blind in both eyes, and it is not correctable by glasses or surgery.  Due to my low vision, I had to use pens and several vision devices.  Children at a young age don’t understand this, and I had few friends.  I used this poem to help the children in my class understand why I couldn’t use pencils.  To my amazement, it worked! They understood me better than ever before, and I was hooked on writing from then on.

As I grew older, I used poetry to express both good times and bad.  The good times included classes I loved and my family pet Lilly, a beagle mix.  The bad times were when students picked on me due to my vision, once I was old enough to understand what they were doing, as well as deaths in the family like grandparents.

When Sneezy the Squirrel is released, the first thing you may notice is that the print will be larger.  This was my choice.  As a younger child it was hard to find books that I didn’t need a magnifier for.  Now that I am writing my own, especially when it comes to children’s books, the print size will be automatically larger.  This is because I believe every child should be able to read and learn from the same book.  I also believe that a child’s parents shouldn’t have to pay more for a book their child can see.

What do you want children to take away from Sneezy the Squirrel?

I want children who do not have disabilities to understand that everyone has something that makes them different.  Sneezy got his name because of his allergies, something anyone can have, just like a disability.  We are all different, so instead of making fun of one another, we should help and love one another.  That is the beautiful thing about life. We may not all have limitations, but we are still unique, and because of this we can learn from everyone we meet.

How did you come up with the idea of Sneezy the Squirrel?

On a lighter note, I came up with Sneezy the Squirrel in a very funny way.  I just had allergy testing done at the age of 21.  I was allergic to grass, ragweed, dust, cats, dogs, and eight different kinds of trees.  The worst part after finding out all of this was being on a college campus that had basically everything on that list!

One day when walking to class, a day or two after my allergy test, a little squirrel ran onto the path and looked at me.  I said “hello” to him as I often did, but he didn’t scurry away. He just looked at me!  He was adorable, but I had to get to class, so I told him “goodbye” and went to class.  During a review session, I put my confirmed allergy to a squirrel perspective, naturally, and wrote the idea for Sneezy the Squirrel in the back of my notebook. When I got home, the whole book took about 45 minutes to write with coffee in hand!

Why did you choose Columbus Publishing Lab for your project?

I held onto the rough draft of Sneezy the Squirrel for three years as I completed my two associate degrees and then turned them into two bachelor’s degrees.  Near the time I completed school, I started to investigate publishing options.  Since writing Sneezy the Squirrel, I had written eighteen manuscripts as a series for adults.  I also had several ideas typed out in folders just waiting for me to have time to work on them.

I had made a deal with my father that I would complete college before pursuing publication, and just as I was nearing that goal, an author named Peg Hanna brought her book to the nursing home where I frequently volunteered.  I asked her who she published with and after meeting Emily Hitchcock, the choice was obvious.  I also chose Columbus Publishing Lab for security, knowing I wouldn’t have to be anxious about someone stealing my work.  For every potential publisher, there seemed to be five others that I researched who didn’t seem legit.  In addition, most of them wanted too much money, another reason I couldn’t believe them, or their intentions.

What have you enjoyed most about publishing Sneezy the Squirrel?

What I have enjoyed most about publishing Sneezy the Squirrel is finally seeing the characters come to life. My illustrator Ryan is doing a great job, and it’s amazing how he has brought a character I created to an image I and others can see! This also leads into my advice to those trying to publish their first book. Do your research! Be sure that who you are going to trust with your work, is worthy of that trust. Further, if you can find someone like Columbus Publishing Lab, who lets you keep your rights to the book you created, it will really reduce the stress of the process!  Lastly, enjoy the process. It goes so fast!

What is your next step?

The next step in my process is to get Sneezy the Squirrel out there so people with and without children with special needs knows it is available.  What I earn from this book will go towards my next, and the next, and the next!  I want to be an author; it is the first love and only constant I have ever wanted in life.  My favorite part is when I start a new story, or I expand on a series with another book; it is so exciting!  I don’t know where I am going, but I trust my imagination will lead me in the right direction.  It has yet to let me down, and I can’t wait for my readers to rise and fall, laugh and cry, along with every new adventure I take them on, at any age.  I personally thank you for reading about me, and I hope you are as excited as I am to read about Sneezy and all my other characters to come.

You can follow Heather and her work on Facebook or Instagram.

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