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Dylan Weiss’s real name is Gail Neustadt, but she decided to write under a pen name because: “As a teen, I hated my name, Gail. Nothing rhymed with Gail and there were no songs about Gail. I wanted a more elegant name, so I began using the name Abigail when I wrote in my diary and continued using Abigail when writing stories.”

This worked until “Sebastian's Tale,” in which Abigail became one of the protagonists of the story. “I didn’t want a main character’s name to also be the author’s name, nor did I want to use my own name. I figured something would come to me, and it DID! Several years before “Sebastian’s Tale” was published, while washing my hair in the shower, as always, I observed patterns on the stone shower wall; I saw the same bunny, mouse, and other patterns I always noticed.  BUT THEN ... on the wall right in front of me appeared a scribble I had never before noticed. It looked like handwriting. And there it was (the handwriting on the wall), Dylan Weiss with an upside-down L in Dylan and a backward S in WeiSs. Dylan is my Maryland Granddaughter, named after my late husband, Dave, and Weiss is the maiden name of my maternal Grandmother. And so, I adopted Dylan Weiss as my pen name. 

Gail explains, “Sebastian's Tale” along with “Norton's Tale” are two books in the “Skunk Tales Trilogy.” The third, “The Tale of Quinn's Quill,” is expected to be completed in 2025. The three books were written in order to develop characters for my most recent book, “Traveling Our Road,” which was a recent TAZ award winner. My late husband, Dave, had early onset Alzheimer's disease. When my now 19-year-old grandson, Joey, was two years old, his response to Dave was fear which broke my heart.  I knew I had to find a way to connect the two. Understanding that Joey had never seen Dave when he was well, I wrote a simple book called “Dave’s Tale” for Joey. In it, I had pictures of Dave doing fun things (riding a horse, going to a party, attending an OSU football game, smiling, etc.) paired with a companion picture that stated, “Just like (a Winnie the Pooh character) next to it.”

Not long after that, Gail, a speech-Language Pathologist, received a call from her national organization, ASHA (American Speech Language Hearing Association), asking if she had developed any new communication programs for Dave since her award-winning article written six years earlier. "When I told them about “Dave's Tale” and the positive affect it had on Joey, they asked me to write an article for their newsletter, the ASHA Leader. After publication, I received a call from Dr. Michelle Bourgeois, who was heading up a call for papers for the ASHA annual conference. She asked me to present a program on communication programs for dementia and include the one I had done for Joey. However, about a month before the conference, I was told I couldn’t use Disney pictures (Winnie the Pooh), and suggested using other animals. When I said I couldn’t because it was based on a well-known story, Dr. Bourgeois answered, “Quick, write a children’s story.” Thus was born Sebastian of “Sebastian’s Tale.” Dave died the day I was to present (Nov. 15, 2007). I continued writing and, about six years later, self-published “Sebastian’s Tale,” which was later re-issued as one book in a trilogy by Red Engine Press. Thus, I finally had other animal characters to use in my children’s picture book. So, the the original “Dave’s Tale” morphed into “Traveling Our Road.”

“Traveling Our Road features six animals, one magic walking stick, and two humans. The characters came from the first two books of “Skunk Tales Trilogy,” and each replaced the Disney characters used in the original storybook, “Dave’s Tale.”

How did you come up with the names for your characters?

“Sebastian Skunk was dreamed up when I asked myself, “If I were an animal that had lost its tail, like Eeyore (Disney’s sad donkey in Winnie the Pooh) what kind of animal would I be?” The name was taken from the shampoo I always use. When I looked up the meaning of the name Sebastian, I was astounded to learn that Sebastian was the patron saint of soldiers. A Perfect name because Sebastian became a soldier by the end of his Tale!

All of the animals were named based on a variety of events that had happened in my life and/or current events happening while I was writing. For instance, Sylvia, Sebastian’s mother means woodland (Sylvia was a friend of my Mom) and Sebastian’s father Sol means sun (Sol was also my Dad’s middle name).”

According to Gail, the book's intention is twofold: “First to help prepare small children (ages 2-5) for a visit to an ill grandparent (especially one with a dementing illness) and second, to use with support groups encouraging adult discussion about personal caregiving challenges. There are visual and auditory symbols throughout the book used to promote such discussion.”

I asked Gail where she writes her books and got a lovely answer: “I write on my laptop on the fold-out desk in an antique secretary, which is in my apartment in the corner of my living room. It faces three large picture windows with a magnificent view of a large park. I prefer writing in the morning, with a clear mind and a hot cup of coffee."

Gail said she used her own base of knowledge for “Traveling Our Road,” for most of her research:

“The book Traveling Our Road did not require much research since I lived the book and had extensive knowledge about the subject of Alzheimer’s and Caregiving. I was a nationally recognized expert in the development of communication programs for people with dementia and was a caregiver for my husband for over 15 years.

However, I did extensive research about the various animals in  “Skunk Tales Trilogy” and I also worked with Dr. Michelle Bourgeois during her research on Memory Wallets at the University of Pittsburgh as well as Dr. Marat Moore, the editor of the ASHA Leader.”

Tell me something else you enjoy besides writing:

“I am a ‘do it from scratch person.’ Since there were no books about Alzheimer’s that I could find suitable for my grandson, I wrote my own. I have written many stories for my grandchildren. I also bake, cook, and sew from scratch. I have an imaginary bakery titled “True Confections” and have made quilts and life-sized Raggedy Ann dolls for my grandkids. Currently, in retirement, I continue to write, but I have been struck by the increase in neurologic disorders (Alzheimer’s being but one) concomitant with the increase in air/water/earth pollution from cradle to grave fracking in Pennsylvania. As such, I have become an environmentalist, presenting testimony during public hearings, educating the public, and consider myself an environmental activist.”

How did you select the illustrator for “Traveling Our Road:”

“I was fortunate  to select my own illustrator for “Traveling Our Road.”  The talented Abigail Walouke from Columbus, Ohio, created the book cover and all the illustrations. I spent two years trying to find just the right person, and Abby is amazing! I have Joyce Faulkner to thank for allowing me the privilege of selecting my illustrator. Not only do I LOVE Abby’s style, but her philosophical approach to a project is in synch with mine. She was able to understand the magic of my story and actually illustrate visual magic throughout the book. When I first started working with Abby, she was a student at The Ohio State University, where she created artistic material for their Athletics Video Production department. After graduating with a BA in Art & Technology specializing in 2D animation, digital illustrations, and motion graphics, she worked as an artist assistant for The Scarefactory and currently works full-time as a Motion Graphics Animator. Abby is an artist dedicated to her craft, her family and friends, her religious community, and those in need.”

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