Sunday, October 27, 2013

Little Feathers: Hoppin' on the Blog Train!

Little Feathers: Hoppin' on the Blog Train!: My friend Janie Sullivan writes, teaches writing, and runs fun and rewarding writing contests through her Center for Writing Excellence. I m...

Hoppin' on the Blog Train!

My friend Janie Sullivan writes, teaches writing, and runs fun and rewarding writing contests through her Center for Writing Excellence. I met her when I discovered her short story contests and entered a few. She writes a great blog ( , and asked me if I wanted to participate in a Blog Tour. Sounds fun, right? I get to answer a few questions that other writers have been answering in their blogs, and then pass the baton (okay, mixed metaphors--sheesh). So, I'll answer them this week, and then I'm tagging my friend Lisa Matthews for next week. Lisa writes great ghostly works, and you can read about her projects at when she joins the blog tour next Monday, Nov. 4th. All aboard!
What are you working on right now?
I have three major projects going right now. I just had my first picture book, Mad, Mad Annabelle Jane released on Oct 1st. I have been having a lot of fun with book signings, a school visit (with two more schools on the books) a library story-time, and great response from friends and family who are helping me get the word out. I like to write in rhyme, probably because I spent years writing lyrics for children's musicals. This book is a rhyming story, and I have sequel, Itchy, Itchy Annabelle Jane, written and about to begin the editing process. I have learned a lot about working with a publisher, and the learning curve is steep at times. But I am very happy with my book, and I am in love with reading it aloud to anyone who will listen.
I also co-wrote a YA novel, Raina Rising, with my grown daughter, Sally Nava. I found that collaborating is inspiring and invigorating. The paperback will be on Amazon by the end of next week, as will the ebook. Together, Sally and I are Tessa Franklin. Raina Rising is the story of a Russian ballerina in a Soviet ballet school in the 1960s, and is the first in a series of three. Sally and I have begun book two, but have a ways to go!
My third project is a collaboration with a symphony composer, Thomas Pavlechko, who wrote a number of Halloween "scarols" (think Christmas carols in a minor key with Halloween words). Together we came up with a narrative poem, 'Twas All Hallows Eve, along the lines of Night Before Christmas that tie the scarols together into a story. We just finished producing it with a choir of professional singers, an orchestra and a professional dance company. A film student is making a documentary of it and we are hoping it will find it's way to TV right after Charlie Brown's Great Pumpkin. Who knows? If we don't put it out there, how can we find out?
How do these projects differ from other works in their genre?
I'm not sure that my picture book really differs. After I attended a Highlights for Children workshop and met Eileen Spinelli, my inner poet was revitalized. I love her books. If you get a chance, pick one up and just read it aloud. I hope to be in her class someday, but in the meantime, I'm happy just writing rhyming stories.
Raina Rising is not just a ballet novel. It deals with challenges that face young people as they decide what price they will pay for their dreams. And who they will sacrifice.
I have not seen anything like 'Twas All Hallows Eve.  Thom and I are hopeful that the scarols will become so well known, and such a part of Halloween, that families sing them together. 
Why do you write what you do?
I have heard before that children's writers have a child of a certain age still inside them. Some have more than one. I seem to have a five year old and a teenager in there rattling around. I also have written for adults, mostly devotionals for the Lutheran church, but the child inside is what gets excited and demands to find a voice in my laptop keys. I write because it is fun, and because words build up until I need to let them out. 
How does your writing process work?
I am a project girl. I work on something until it is done, and usually the process itself involves committing to enough chair time to meet my goal. But I can't sit down and make myself write if my brain isn't ready. Or, at least, nothing that shouldn't be deleted! So I do a lot of thinking about the story until I have an idea, then I sit until I get it down. I love co-writing with Sally because we go for walks and talk about the characters and what will happen, and it plays like a movie in my head.
Any departing words of wisdom for other authors?
Write because you love it. Write because you want to see the words on paper or on the computer. If you are writing for a paycheck, I'm sure that changes some things. But it doesn't ruin it, because it is terribly rewarding for someone to say that they like what you've written enough to buy it. I feel very liberated by being fifty nine years old. I don't have to prove anything. I get to write, I don't have to write. But that is my story. I say, however writing fits into your story, do it your way. Make it work. Don't let someone else tell you what to say. Writing is self expression. I feel very fortunate to be writing today when there are so many routes to getting our work before the public. Go for it!
Thanks for reading, and be sure to look for Lisa's blog next Monday at


Monday, October 21, 2013

Little Feathers: Gates and Electric Fences and Mixed Metaphors

Little Feathers: Gates and Electric Fences and Mixed Metaphors: I usually write on this blog when the words build up and I need to hit the release valve. Most of the time I just tap away, trying to get my...

Gates and Electric Fences and Mixed Metaphors

I usually write on this blog when the words build up and I need to hit the release valve. Most of the time I just tap away, trying to get my thoughts down before they disappear. But this time I had a shift, one of those changes-of-angle that I love to feel come over me, even before I began to write.

I have written before about the huge changes in the publishing world. I know I've said, "the gates are down" several times. We writers now have access to routes of publishing that no one has had before. The gatekeepers, those agents and editors and publishers who in the past have given us permission, or not, to get our words out are no longer the final word. There are hybrid publishers who will do much of the same work as a traditional publisher, but require an "author investment". Some of those publishers will publish anything, and lack of selection does affect the marketplace. I have to say, there was a lot of not-so-great writing on shelves before that change in business practices. There is also the mysterious process of self publishing, allowing writers launch their works on Amazon, among other distributors.

A year ago I decided that I am too old to wait for the rejection letters to change their spots. I got some really encouraging help from some big name industry editors, and decided that my picture book was good enough to publish. I felt rebellious and secretly powerful that I could take an alternate route to publishing. I went with a small outfit, one that has a mixed reputation, because I believed the promises they made about what they would do for me. By and large, I like the way the book turned out. The illustrations are cute. And my words are on the amazing gift. I can hold it in my hand.

I've had really good response from teachers and librarians, a book store owner and many friends. But the most affirming reactions have been from children. 

So, what I am writing about? Well, it started to be about the snobbishness that still remains in the industry. I want to shout, "Judge the book! Tell me if you like the book!" when I come up against people who still think a book needs a New York address to be good.  The gates may be down, but that pesky underground electric fence is still zapping writers.  Then, that little voice that reminds me of stuff spoke to me during a Jazzercise routine (some of my best thoughts happen that way) this morning.

I was the one who was rebellious and went with a small publisher. I decided that getting my book out there while I'm still able to drive myself to book signings was worth bucking the system. So, how can I rail against the slings and arrows of people who still believe there is no use reading a book not cut from the Agented Author cloth? Do I care if bookstores turn up their noses at a signing request? Of course I do. Does that mean I'll give up? Of course not. In for a penny, in for a pound.

The really nice owner of a great independent bookstore in Salt Lake City, Weller Book Works, gave me some great advice. She said that the success of my book depends on getting it into the hands of families. However that happens, whatever roads I take to make it happen, that is the point of writing a picture book. Anything that falls into place as a result of children hearing this book is gravy.  Ms Weller's advice is very important to me because it is an affirmation. She took a chance on me and Mad, Mad Annabelle Jane. And she liked us.

I am not writing to complain, I'm writing to remind myself that there are certain things about this book business that I can control. Like being willing to put myself and my book out there when possible. The rest of the stuff, like anyone else's agenda, I can let go of. Weight off my mind, believe me. Wouldn't it be a burden to believe that I was actually in control of another person's thoughts?

Whether you have a book you want to write, or whether you have other dreams and goals that seem fenced in by rules of engagement, I hope you will brave that little zap you feel stepping over the electric fence. Believing in yourself is still the only requirement for taking the next step. And, it truly could be that getting a little zap now and then keeps us alert and alive. Courage, my fence jumpers. Courage.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Little Feathers: What Could Be Better?

Little Feathers: What Could Be Better?: There really is nothing more fun for a children's author than to have a child be excited about your book. Nothing compares! Yesterday ...

What Could Be Better?

There really is nothing more fun for a children's author than to have a child be excited about your book. Nothing compares!

Yesterday Bob and I drove the 100 miles to Boerne, Texas to do a signing at a coffee shop that my publisher set up. To tell the truth, I was leery of the coffee shop gig because last week I had a zero, nada, no fun signing at a coffee shop here in Austin. But it was a beautiful day for a drive, I had the great company of husband/best fan/partner, so I thought I'd give it another shot. After all, we could enjoy a nice latte if nothing else.

We arrived at the Daily Grind and were lucky enough to set up on a sidewalk table on a busy Saturday in super-cute historic Boerne. Lots of families strolling Main Street. Bob got us a latte and we sat back to see what the day would bring.

First, our friend Mary Jo stopped by on her way back to town from her ranch to buy a couple of books for her grandchildren. I love signing them to people I know! Then another grandma stopped by and bought one for her grandchildren. Then two things happened that made every moment and every drop of gas worth it.

The first was a beautiful little girl from Utah named Jillian. She walked by with her mom and some other women who were not planning to stop at our table. Jillian did a double-take and picked up a book. I told her a tiny bit about the book and she called her mom back. Jillian told me she would like a book signed to her. I told her how much they cost and asked how her mom felt about it. Jillian took the book to her mom and said, " Look. It's about a girl who is very angry. I want one." Mom shrugged and opened her purse. Jillian and I talked a little as I signed her book. Then she gave me a giant hug. "I love people who smile," she said. So do I, Jillian, so do I. Keep that open heart and big smile.

A second gift was a little boy named Steven (his mom said I could share his picture on the Mad, Mad Annabelle Jane fanpage, who spied the book from a nearby table where his family had stopped. Steven asked me about the book, and his mom came over and asked him if he could read the back cover. A second grader, Steven is already a great reader. He laughed in just the right places in the synopsis. He grinned real big and told his mom he wanted the book. While I signed it to him, he stood by to have his picture made, and as he walked away, he showed it to his little sister. I heard him tell her he would read it to her, and the pride in his voice made me feel really good.

We sold a few other books and were packing up to go when the last fun thing happened. A woman rushed up and apologized for her wet hair, saying she had hurried to get the book she had seen advertised on the events page of the paper, submitted by my publisher. It turns out she is a play therapist and wanted four books to use in her practice. How cool is that? I am very pleased to think that my book might be tool to help a child.  A perfect ending to a very, very nice day. Lucky me.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Little Feathers: Instead of This, That!

Little Feathers: Instead of This, That!: A thought occurred to me yesterday, and as those things do, this one is itching to be written down and explored. I've been working on c...

Instead of This, That!

A thought occurred to me yesterday, and as those things do, this one is itching to be written down and explored.
I've been working on changing the angle at which I look at certain things, (thanks to Mary Marino-Strong for that provocative tool) and I keep discovering new angles that are a blessing to me. At the same time that I understand 'there is nothing new under the sun', new to the universe and new to me are not the same. This particular thought is new only in application. The notion has been with me a long time. Enough pre-amble!
I'll give a personal example. After my treatment for breast cancer 2 1/2 years ago, my body really changed in the way it metabolized food. Eating the same as I had been was a slow gain formula, and I did not really understand that for a long time. In our culture, where thin is revered and thick is not, I was not happy with the creeping weight gain. Not only our culture, I have to say. I would like to think I give a good amount of attention to being healthy, and a weight gain was not in my long term health plan! I'm working on it, but so far have only managed to stop the upward creep. What does this have to do with changing the angle?
A couple of weeks ago another friend asked me to consider that, if I truly accept life on life's terms, then I need to accept everything about myself. Not as being particularly better than another way of being, but as being exactly where I am supposed to be at this time. I mulled that over. And I realized that acceptance is an important ingredient in authentic spiritual growth.
So, this is what occurred to me yesterday. I can actually give thanks for this weight gain. It means I am on the other side of breast cancer. It means that, even though I went through a course of treatment that made weight issues stickier to handle, the real and amazing thing it means is that I was cured of breast cancer! How can I not be grateful for that? And every time I look at myself, I will see a woman who is blessed to be living this day cancer free. It is a focus change, a change in the angle. And I think it is the one God has in mind for me, because gratitude is such a better response to the gifts in this life than being dissatisfied with imperfection. And it makes breathing so much easier, and more fun. I am beginning to understand that old advice I have heard all my life but never really internalized,"in all things give thanks". It is from Thessalonians, but it is echoed in wisdom teachings everywhere. Instead of always wanting something to be different, see the blessings in the way things are. I like it.