Duluth woman pens, illustrates children's book

Hayli Martinson self-published “A Dog Named Dog” during March 2020 and the start of pandemic-related shutdowns. It was a rough time, “filled with let-downs,” Martinson said, but focusing on her book has helped her through the pandemic

Author Hayli Martinson grabs a copy of her book “A Dog Named Dog” from the shelves at Barnes and Noble in the Miller Hill Mall in Duluth on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 29, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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Hayli Martinson felt directionless after high school graduation. During her gap year before college, she struggled to determine her next step. “For a couple months, I literally did nothing,” said Martinson.

Martinson’s mother, Janna, recalled similar doubts at that age. “I kept telling her, ‘You’ll figure it out.’”

“I struggled for a really long time. I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know how I stood out in this world,” said Hayli Martinson.

At 19, she channeled her emotions into writing and illustrating a children’s book “A Dog Named Dog,” about a pup struggling to find its purpose. The moral of the story: “It’s not the things you do or what you look like that make you unique. Being yourself is what makes you unique,” said the now 21-year-old.

With the help of her mother, Martinson self-published “A Dog Named Dog” during March 2020 and the start of pandemic-related shutdowns. It was a rough time, “filled with let-downs,” Martinson said, but focusing on her book has helped her through the pandemic.


Author Hayli Martinson shows some of her illustrations from her book “A Dog Named Dog” at Barnes and Noble in the Miller Hill Mall in Duluth on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 29, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“We’re so proud of her,” said Janna Martinson, who recalled seeing her daughter overcome personal hurdles to see her vision through. “She’s a perfectionist like her grandpa was. To see her persevere through that, it was amazing to watch it all come to life,” she said.

The Martinsons posted the book on social media and contacted local bookstores. They did home deliveries and mailbox drop-offs.

Things are picking up. In August, Hayli Martinson had her first book signing at Barnes and Noble, and her book’s available there, The Bookstore at Fitger's and Toys For Keeps, as well as on Amazon.

Asked why she chose dogs for her main character, Martinson said she has had a special connection with them since she was a kid.

“They have really helped me through things, and I think dogs, and a lot of animals, have the power to change people and help them through life struggles. That’s what each and every dog did for me.”

And, her book seems proof that hasn’t changed.

Martinson took some time to answer questions about her go-to Duluth spot, working through perfectionism and more.


Q. Which children’s books did you gravitate to when you were a kid?

A. I loved “Kipper the Dog” when I was little. I loved all the books, the simple illustrations, and even the show. That’s where I got a lot of inspiration for my book.

Q. What are you reading now?

A. I honestly am not a big fan of reading. I find it very hard for me to pay attention to books that are long, especially with no pictures. There’s nothing like a good children’s book to read. I appreciate the illustrations and the unique stories.

Q. Describe your go-to creative setting (place, time of day, music).

A. My go-to creative setting is at home, in my room, listening to some of my favorite music. My favorite thing to do is relax while listening to piano music with rain sounds in the background. Seriously, the most relaxing music ever!

Q. You grew up in Duluth. What are your go-to spots to recharge or get grounded?

A. Oh, this one is too easy. I love going to Vitta Pizza. They have the best pizza, the best music, and the best atmosphere that just makes my worries go away.


Q. What helps you work through perfectionism, as an artist and a writer?

A. Yes, I am a perfectionist, literally about everything. Working on my book was really hard for me because everything I did was never good enough for me. I always said to myself that there are other artists and writers out there better than me.

What got me through this struggle was my mindset. I had to force myself not to think such negative things, and to just let myself be free.

Q. What are your takeaways from self-publishing during a pandemic?

A. I’ve learned that if I can self-publish a book during a pandemic, well I can do anything. It was the most challenging thing I have ever done, and even though there were many bumps along the way, I’m proud of myself for doing what I was capable of.

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I have several stories that I have written and am submitting to many publishers, hoping to get accepted. So as of right now, I am just writing many stories on my own and hoping that they can be published someday.

Q. Advice for other creatives?

A. Never let your self-doubts get in the way of your dreams. It’s easier said than done but try not to be your worst enemy. Embrace success and failure on your creative journey because you can learn a lot from them.

Q. You can (safely) dine with three people, alive or dead. Who are they and why?

A. Michael Jackson, Steven Tyler (from Aerosmith), and my grandpa, J.D.

I chose Michael Jackson and Steven Tyler because they have been my idols since I was little. I also chose my grandpa, J.D., because he passed away when I was 2. There’s nothing more that I have ever wanted than to just have a conversation with him.

Find it:

  • Barnes & Noble
  • The Bookstore at Fitger's
  • Toys For Keeps
  • Amazon
  • iTunes
Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346,
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