Friday, June 13, 2014

An Author by Any Other Name: Or Who The Heck Am I?

     




     I’m having a whopper of an identity crisis. Well, not That kind of crisis. I mean, I’m not aiming for a red convertible, a party cruise, or a cute cabana boy to feed me grapes and read me poetry (though a girl can fantasize.) No, I’m digging my way out of analysis paralysis over the name I will publish under. Never mind that I’ve already had two books for the educational market, plus magazine and newspaper articles, and short stories in anthologies published under Donna Bowman Bratton. For all of those, I successfully gagged this inner voice telling me I should stay true to the name I was born to. Somehow, the stakes feel higher now, with my first trade books inching toward reality. The foreverness of it all seems so, well, forever. Through my more, ahem, mature perspective, the word “legacy” comes to mind. And, just maybe, my inner feminist is causing a ruckus with existential questions like who am I really?

     I decided not to change my name when I married. I owned a business at the time and the world knew me by my maiden name. I was a-okay with not having matching passports with my hubby and kids until… I was stopped for speeding. Don’t judge. You see, my husband was a high ranking police officer in our community and the subordinate officer who approached my car window didn’t recognize me or the name on my driver’s license. Not that I’m a chronic speeder or law-breaker, but I did have an epiphany that adding his last name to my driver’s license could come in handy in an emergency. Only in an emergency! But names are as invasive as vines and I found it difficult to have two identities. Now, twenty years later, I feel myself back in that driver’s seat, ready to “press hard and sign on the dotted line,” but my hand is a little twitchier now. I’m removing the gag on that inner voice. It’s now or never if I want to change my name. With any luck, my reach in the literary world will never be smaller than it is right now, before these books hit the shelves and I set out to establish my brand. Yes, it’s time.

     When I first asked my family for their opinions about what name I should publish under, they were supportive of the idea. My thirteen-year-old son, always the quick wit, didn’t hesitate to offer his suggestion.

  “Mom, publish under the name John Wayne,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to read a book by John Wayne?”  
“Um, you may be the only kid on the planet who knows who John Wayne is, er, was,” I countered. “It’s about my first name,” I clarified. “Or initials. Or first name with middle initial. Or maybe I should use a pen name.”  It turns out there are other Donna Bowmans writing children’s books. Even another D.J. Bowman. Ugh!
“I’ve got it,” my husband said. “Change the spelling of your first name. You could be Don-uh Bowman.”  
“Um, no!”

     Choosing an author’s name is like choosing a tattoo. Once it is on the spine of a book, it is there forever.  That’s both a lovely thought and a heavy decision. I mean, come on, we’ve all heard horror stories of trying to remove a tattoo. All those nasty scars! I’ve polled enough author friends to know that I’m not alone in this name-angst. We already have multiple personalities, on the page, and in public. In a way, our author name is its own personality. But, while readers may forget and outgrow some of our book characters, we hope they never forget us as authors. Our names will follow us through the Library of Congress, book shelves around the country, and through the unknown future of our lives until our legacies land on the family tree. So. Much. Pressure!

How Do You Choose?

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Is the yourname.com domain name and other social media moniker available?
  • Are there other authors publishing under the same name? Consider what they write and what reputation they have. How will your name stand apart?
  • Will librarians be confused by your name?
  • Who would your neighbors be in the book shelf community?
  • How will your name be received by young readers?     *I have a personal friend who legally changed his last name recently because the spelling led to pronunciations that were far from complimentary. He was tormented as a kid.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to embark on the path of analysis paralysis. 
You. Are. Welcome.

By the way, if you decide to be cute, remember, you probably have only one opportunity to use your name humorously when titling your book:
(fictional examples below)
RAPUNZEL by Harris Long
FISH STORY by Rod Enreel
ARCHERY by Beau N. Arrow
CRANKY CROCODILE by Ali Gator
ADVANCED MATH by Smart E. Pants
LIFE UNDER THE BLEACHERS by Seymour Butts
ANTLERS IN THE TREE TOP by Hue Goostamoose


Some folks choose mononyms (singular names) for obvious and less-than-obvious reasons:
  • Why? Because they wanna.
  • Avi- Born Edward Irving Wortis. By the way, his parents discouraged him from becoming a writer, so he goes by the childhood nickname given him by his sister. Ha!
  • Aliki- Aliki Liacouras Brandenburg
  • Sting- Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner
  • Cher- Cherilyn Sarkisian
  • Madonna- –Move along–
Maybe you should you use a pen name:

  • (there’s no space here, but search authors with pen names. Wow! Note that some authors choose a pen name, specifically because it would place their books next to bestsellling authors.)
  • If you crave anonymity (read privacy)
  • *Though every pen name is easily traced to your real name
  • If you’re in the witness protection program
  • If your real name is difficult to spell
  • If your surname doesn’t sound good or you don’t like your family
  • If your real name is too common
  • If you write in very different genres or for different audiences. (But be prepared to maintain multiple online identities.)
  • If you are an elementary school teacher who writes racy or controversial content
  • If your day job would be in jeopardy because of the content of your writing
  • Just because you wanna
Initials instead of your first name?

  • So that your name is gender-neutral
  • For a smidgen of anonymity (see above)
  • To evoke an air of name-mystery
  • Because it sounds scholarly, or poetic, or just plain cool
  • Just because you wanna
Maiden name rather than married name?

  • If you want a simple division between your personal life and your author life
  • If you want to insure foreverness of name if an unforseen life change occurs in the future
  • If you want to honor your birth family and/or your childhood self
  • I was happily surprised to find so many women using their maiden names.
  • *A quick scan across the authors I personally know revealed scads of examples of women who took their first husband’s name, became well known by that name, then remarried after divorce or death of spouse. Judy Blume is one example.
Whew!

I’m days away from pulling the trigger on the absolute, final, forevermore author name I will publish my trade books under. The upcoming expiration of my website domain name has provided just the deadline I need.

If all else fails, I can always revert to the names suggested by my ever-so-helpful family.
Don-uh “John Wayne” Bowman
Tell us, dear author readers, how did you decide which name to publish under?
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Donna Bowman Bratton was born with a middle name that begins with a J and with a last name that begins and ends in Bowman. She is a Texas author with a passion for nonfiction and historical fiction for young readers. Her first trade book, STEP RIGHT UP: THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY will hit bookshelves in spring 2015 by Lee and Low Books, followed by EN GARDE! ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS, coming in spring 2016 from Peachtree Publishers. She is currently name-challenged.

This post was originally published on  http://emusdebuts.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/an-author-by-any-other-name-or-who-the-heck-am-i/

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Beautiful Jim Key: THE MOVIE

In less than a year, my debut trade book, STEP RIGHT UP: THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY will be on the shelves and I'll be in giddy and breathless promotion mode. Daniel Minter is working his magic on illustrations, bringing Doc and Jim to life on the page. I'm revising my author's note and mulling over possible dedications decisions. My pre-release to-do list is growing. You wouldn't think I could get more excited.

Then this happened:

http://www.screendaily.com/news/morgan-freeman-joins-cargo-project/5071951.article

and

http://www.t-g.com/story/2084343.html

and

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cannes-morgan-freeman-star-period-

and

toomanyarticlesannouncingthemovietolist!



Morgan Freeman has been cast as Doc Key in a movie about Beautiful Jim Key, based on the 2005 adult book by Mim Eichler Rivas. MORGAN FREEMAN! Production is set to begin early 2015. Ya know, about the time my book comes out. I don't know much about movie timelines, but maybe the movie will be out in 2016.  I'm ecstatic about their choice of actors. I wonder how they'll cast the horse?

Of course, it's a Hollywood film, so I'm anticipating a fair amount of fictionalization for dramatic effect. But, holy moly, what a great way to share the story of Doc and Jim with the world. Let's all keep fingers crossed that they preserve the heart of the story; it's all about kindness to animals and to each other.






Monday, April 28, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

Every once in a while, a nugget of smiley goodness appears in my inbox. That's how I'd describe being asked by author F.A. Michaels to participate in an ongoing blog tour about the writing process by answering four related questions. F.A. Michaels, or Mic, is the author of some amazing novels for middle grade and young adult readers. Some of those stories will come to life as e-books right off the bat. Others will land on print pages soon. Mic knows that I am passionate about books for young readers and that I enjoy a good ole fashion discussion about the writing process- which is as unique to an author as a fingerprint. I encourage you to take a look at what other authors have revealed, beginning with talented F.A. Michaels here. Go ahead, I'll wait.

I know, Mic is brilliant, right? Well, now that you're back, I'll do my best to enlighten you about how I work.

What am I currently working on?
Lately, my multi-tasking muscles have gotten a workout. In the last two weeks, I did final edits on two books I wrote for the educational market, due out this summer. I'm also kicking around new title options for my debut trade book, a nonfiction picture book coming out next spring from Lee and Low, tentatively titled STEP RIGHT UP: THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY. And speaking of that debut, it will be out in less than a year. Ahhhhhhh! There's so much to think about and plan for: book launch parties, marketing, the best pen to sign with, how to thank the multitudes of people who have helped me emotionally and craft-wise to bring the book to fruition. I suddenly feel pregnant all over again, stressing over a very long pre-baby to-do list that will lead to one beautiful event.

I'm in the research stage of a new project, but I'll remain coy for now. Partly to avoid leaks in focus that would allow some of the magic to spill from the mental process by talking about it too soon. Once the story is well rounded, fully spiced, and tightly sealed, I'll be thrilled to talk about it. For now, I'll reveal only that it will probably be a nonfiction picture book (unless it becomes something else,) about an almost-forgotten historical event involving war, trains, destruction, kids, adults, hunger, and gifts. I am enthralled by all I am learning and antsy to begin writing. But, it isn't time yet.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
It's funny, isn't it, that we begin our writing careers studying the works and styles of other writers, trying to emulate them. Then, our goal is to be different, original, unique. To that end, I'm not sure how to answer this question except to say that every project I tackle has a bit of me in it. I think that's true of all writers. There isn't one characteristic that makes my work different. It is the collective gathering of ideas and the particular voice and spin I give it. So maybe the question should be "What topics and themes am I drawn to?" As I consider the many nonfiction topics I've tackled, it's interesting to observe themes that have emerged organically from each. A reader might correctly assume that I root for underdogs and cheer at success-against-all-odds tales (STEP RIGHT UP: THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY. Lee and Low, spring 2015.) I like real, fallible people who acknowledge and evolve from their mistakes. (EN GARDE! THE DUELING WORDS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Peachtree, 2016.) I like characters who have the gumption to do what others think is impossible. (Stay tuned.) I cheer for strong women who break through gender barriers. (One newly on submission. Another awaiting first draft.) I like learning about the personal side to historical figures. (old project waiting to be re-visited.) I like people with such conviction, they're willing to risk their lives to do what's right. (my old magazine article begging to be a book.)

How does my work differ? I don't know. I'm not sure that can be answered until I'm at the end of my writing career. Let's hope that's a long time from now.

Why do I write what I write?
Much of the answer to this can be found in the previous question, I think. Every year, I promise myself that I will begin my novel and tackle the fiction picture books that I have dabbled with. But, I can't seem to drag myself away from nonfiction. I love true stories. I like the sense of wonderment and awe when I learn something remarkable. People are fascinating, complicated creatures built by life experiences and dreams. Historical subjects are doubly interesting because there's an element of detective work and puzzle-solving to realize their stories. What fun! Sometimes, I think I'm drawn to biographies because it's a way to put logic and order to the human experience which, while we're living life, is chaotic and disorderly. We learn from the past.

How does my individual writing process work?
People often ask where I get my ideas, which is the first step in any writing process. Ideas come from everywhere. I once wrote a magazine article about fainting goats, after catching a news segment on a local television station. Sometimes, ideas come from snippets or blips or the merest mention in newspapers or magazines or documentaries. Sometimes, it's a curiosity that sends me to Google. Not all ideas stick. But, when a topic nags me, when I can't stop the "gee, I wonder..." inner dialog, I know it's one I must pursue. Something about the topic must hit a nerve with me.

My research begins online, then on to books. I begin to horde copies of newspaper clippings from the day and I'll even buy a copy of full newspapers if any still exist. It's an ideal way to gauge what was happening in the community and the world around my subject. If the idea still has me fascinated, I'll contact any known experts. By now, I have research files on my computer desktop and desk drawer where I deposit photos, newspaper and other articles, historical details, world events, copies of pages from books, etc. Without fail, the folder morphs into a bulging 4" binder where print documents are cataloged chronologically. Timelines, details and sequences are categorized. Early on, I begin what I call my source notes document that is also broken into categories. From the massive amount of research I do, I extract important (to me) information and implant them into my source notes. Each source is cited on the document, for easy recall. My single-spaced source notes for a picture book biography can easily grow to 50 pages long. The categories grow and, eventually, a theme emerges.  When I begin coming across the same information over and over, I know it's time to stop researching and start writing.

Information at hand, I outline over and over and over again, keeping an eye on a narrative arc. One of the most difficult decisions about writing picture book biographies is where to begin and end the story. I write, rewrite, scrap the outline, begin again. The last thing I do is pick at my word choices and finesse the voice. Ideally, each story will have it's own voice, appropriate to the topic.  I send this umpteenth draft on to my agent and cross my fingers. But there's no time for a break. By then, another topic is nagging at me, begging to be a book.

Mark your calendars for next week, May 5th when author Carmen Oliver and author/illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson will share their own writing processes on their individual blogs.


Carmen Oliver, originally from Canada, is a former Assistant Regional Advisor of Austin SCBWI. She writes fiction and nonfiction picture books and middle grade novels and is represented by Erzsi Deak of Hen and Ink: A Literary Studio. Carmen has a special affinity for adorable picture books. I don't doubt we'll hear about sales of her books very soon. Carmen's blog can be found here.



Shelley Ann Jackson is the current Assistant Regional Advisor for Austin SCBWI while also teaching illustration at Texas State University. Shelley and her husband, Jeff Crosby,  co-illustrated the newly released TEN TEXAS BABIES by David Davis (Pelican, 2014) as well as UPON SECRECY by Selene Castrovilla (Calkins Creek, 2009.) She co-authored and co-illustrated HARNESS HORSES, BUCKING BRONCOS & PIT PONIES (Tundra Books, 2011,) and LITTLE LIONS, BULL BAITERS & HUNTING HOUNDS (Tundra Books, 2008.)  Shelley's blog can be found here.







Thursday, April 3, 2014

What to Expect When You're Expecting a Debut

I’ve been getting all kinds of antsy lately, worried that I am supposed to be doing something to prepare for my spring 2015 debut. I’ve been plenty busy with other projects. I’ve sold a second book (woohoo!) and revised another for an interested editor (fingers crossed.) And there are the revisions on other projects, etc, etc. But, there’s something special about this debut experience. A first book is like a first child, right?
 
Some pre-release duties, like website updating, blogs, business cards, brochures, mailing lists, and library contacts, are predictable. Expected. But, how do we debut authors prepare for the unexpected?
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I reached out to some pretty awesome EMLA (Erin Murphy Literary Agency) authors and asked them what they wish they’d known as they approached their debut release and what advice they would give to those of us stocking up on anxiety. I hope you will get as much out of their responses as I have.

What about that title? Jeannie Mobley, author of KATERINA’S WISH (McElderry, 2012) pointed out that authors often lose a beloved original title during the pre-release revision process. Your book will be around for a long time, so it’s important to negotiate, with your editor, a title that you will be proud of. Mike Jung, author of GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES (Arthur A. Levine, 2012) expands on the notion, encouraging authors to be prepared “by writing up some alternative versions that you’ll be able to live with.

How about those blog tours? Jeannie Mobley suggests spreading blog interviews out over time, rather than clumping them all into just before and just after the book releases. Especially close to holiday seasons, and award seasons. Janet Fox, author of SIRENS (Speak, 2012) noted the variations in blog styles: “I’ve found the most value for time in doing a creative blog tour. Not just the answer-the-questions kind, but one that maintains a thread or through-line and informs. For my 1920’s historical, I wrote ten posts on different aspects of the 20’s, and got a huge response.”
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Natalie Dias Lorenzi, author of FLYING THE DRAGON (Charlesbridge, 2011) says, “If your time is limited, be choosy about which blogs you agree to provide interviews for, and pay close attention to the audiences they reach. For YA writers, blogs that reach book club facilitators, readers and librarians will give you more mileage… For middle grade and picture book authors, reaching readers via blogs is highly unlikely (there are a few, like http://thiskidreviewsbooks.com).

“In my opinion, librarian and teacher blogs are the most worth your time (and I’m not saying this just because I’m both, I promise.) I say this because librarians and teachers are the most likely to get your books into the hands of readers…Think of a blog tour as a chance to make your audience aware of your book. Take a look at who leaves comments on a blog–is it mostly other writers, or do other folks chime in, too?”      Psst…Check out the below list of librarian and teacher blogs that Natalie has shared with us! Awesome, right?

School visits rock, but…- Pat Zietlow Miller, author of SOPHIE’S SQUASH (Schwartz & Wade, 2013) says, “School visits are a lot of fun, but they also are a lot of work in terms of preparing them, conducting them and decompressing afterward.” When she was faced with a flood of awkward requests for free school visits, Pat came up with a tactful and professional response similar to this: ‘I love doing school visits! What I charge depends on how long I’m there, how far I have to travel and what type of reading or presentation I do. I’d be happy to talk to someone from the school and see what they have in mind.’
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General, but fabulous marketing advice: When it comes to choosing your marketing energies, Cynthia Levinson, author of WE’VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH (Peachtree, 2012) encourages authors to go into the process with eyes wide-open: “I wish I’d known how much time it would all take–blogs, presentations, interviews, videos, library and school visits, trailer, website development, teachers’ guide, conference proposals, multiple trips, articles. It was fun but my recommendation is to figure out what you most like to do and focus on those. Feel free to set priorities, and decline the opportunities that cause you stress or distraction. Your book has value and stands on its own. It’s your publisher’s job to publicize the book. Yours is to write the next books.    “Most of all, enjoy! You deserve it.”

 “I also wish I’d known how many people would ask me, ‘So…where can I get a copy of your book?’ says Pat Miller,  “So I made sure to know which bookstores in town carried it.”

“As far as gigs,” says Jeannie Mobley, “try everything the first time around, see what you enjoy and what you don’t and then pare it down to the things you enjoy doing as you continue to promote (or better yet!) promote your second book.”

What about those reviews? They all agree that it’s a good idea to stay busy and distracted while waiting for reviews to trickle in. Rather than fretting, always be working on another book. Mike Jung reflects on the review process in a humorous way: “Reviews can be a mutant porcupine demon of anxiety. But do not forget how awesome it is that your book is published and how awesome you are for having written it!”

Stress? What stress? “Stock up on chocolate,” says Janet Fox. “Hug your dog. The launch day will come and go and you’ll think, ‘what, no fireworks???’ That’s okay. Your baby is out in the world and you made it happen.”

For the finale to this What to Expect post, Jennifer Nielsen, author of THE SHADOW THRONE trilogy (Scholastic Press, 2012), brilliantly sums up the debut experience with a healthy mix of optimism and realism.
Keep your expectations in scale. Some debut books are breakout hits (Divergent, for example), but most aren’t. For most debut books, the Amazon rank won’t skyrocket upon release, or if it does, it’ll slowly fall to a more average number. Most don’t hit the bestseller lists or take home the big awards. Most debut books won’t garner requests to speak at conferences, or even at schools outside of your home area (if that). And I sometimes think we believe that if our debut doesn’t do all of that, that it’s a sign we’ll forever be mid list, or that we’ll never be “big.”

It’s just not true. Don’t let yourself become discouraged. These things only mean that it’s your debut book and it takes a long time for word to get out about an author, even if the publisher is doing mad publicity for you, and even if all the reviews are glowing. The fact that you are finally a published author is HUGE and amazing and wonderful, but don’t be distressed if the world continues revolving as usual on your release day. You might find your book on an end cap at B&N, or not. Don’t worry if half your family doesn’t get around to reading it for a while, or if your kids’ school doesn’t ask to host your launch party for the whole school to attend.

The #1 best thing you can do for your first book is to write and sell your second. Every book raises your profile, which is particularly important with young readers because once they find a book they love, they go on a search to see what else that author has written. Do everything you can to get the word out pre-release, but put your best attention on your next project.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Publishing is like climbing a mountain. There’s no single trail to the summit, and always a higher summit waiting once you reach the one you were aiming for. The only thing that matters is you keep climbing, and with each book, you will. Let go of any worries about where you are on the mountain – because we’re all just climbing too – and just enjoy the climb, as every author should.
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Many thanks to Natalie Dias Lorenzi for sharing her favorite teacher and librarian blogs below:
K-5 Librarian: http://mrschureads.blogspot.com
3rd Grade Teacher: http://sharpread.wordpress.com/author/colbysharp/
Elementary School Librarian: http://100scopenotes.com
Public Librarian (who is now a stay-at-home mom as of a few months ago): http://sharingsoda.blogspot.com/p/what-i-read.html
Children’s school librarian: http://www.jennysbookreview.com
Mother/Daughter Book Club: http://motherdaughterbookclub.com
Public Librarians for YA: http://www.stackedbooks.org
Youth services librarian: http://masalareader.wordpress.com
Two teachers: http://readingyear.blogspot.it
* Former teacher, current coordinator of instructional technology: http://www.teachmentortexts.com
* Two teachers of reading (high school): http://www.unleashingreaders.com/?page_id=15
* These last two blogs co-host a meme called “It’s Monday–what are you reading?” that draws in lots of librarians and teachers, so check out their links each Monday and read the comments.


Note: This post originally appeared on http://emusdebuts.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/what-to-expect-when-youre-expecting-a-debut/ on 4/3/2014.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

We Are Enough-With or Without Awards

It’s February now which means the two most celebrated events of the year have passed. What did I think about the commercials? Meh! But, I was on the edge of my seat with anticipation, rooting for my favorite players.  Yes, indeed! (Oh, and I hear Super Bowl was pretty good, too.)

The ALA media and book awards featured some impressive titles this year. If you’ve been around the writing scene for any length of time, you know how much stock goes into earning a gold sticker. The bragging rights, the added publicity, the bonuses. Bully for winning authors and illustrators! Now, raise your hand if you’ve ever fantasized about being on the receiving end of one of these fancy-schmancy awards. Go ahead, don’t be shy. It’s human nature for “what ifs” and “if onlys” to dart through our minds when peers reach a pinnacle. Envy is empathy’s first-cousin, twice-removed. They will both show up to public gatherings.

 There’s a big ole risk to paying too much attention to awards, though.  It would be easy to fall into thinking that we are not enough without one. But, at the end of the day, the most important judges are young readers and they’re not looking for award lists. They just know what they like. Sometimes, the books they love and need reside in a different county from the awards table. Those books will inspire and give hope to young people. Some will be life-preservers. So, while award winners and honorees are announced, let’s give a mighty salute to the books, authors, and illustrators who are not mentioned. Gold stickers would be awesome, but our best heart-felt works are enough. We are enough.

 I’m always reminded of a line from the 1993 Disney flick, Cool Runnings, loosely based on the first Jamaican bobsled team to pursue the Olympics. The coach, Irv, is asked by a team member about his own early mis-steps in pursuit of Gold.

“Derice,” Irv says, “a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.”

“Hey, Coach,” Derice asks. “How will I know if I’m enough?”

“When you cross that finish line tomorrow, you’ll know.”
Cool Runnings
In my mind, out ultimate finish line is our books in a child’s hands.

Just for the heck of it, I asked auntie Google the greatest related question ever asked in the history of the world. Why do writers write? Turns out, there are lots of opinions. One website, Authors Promoter, apparently polled 100 published authors. They posted their statistics: 15% of authors write to express themselves, 13% write to help others, 8% write because of their imagination, 6% write because they were influenced by authors they read, etc. You can check out the full pie-chart here, but may I just say that I like that last category.

Auntie Google was such a hoot, I pulled a few craft books off my shelves and thumbed through to find more answers to that question, why do you write? Thankfully, I read with a highlighter in hand, so these stand out quotes were easy to find.

Journalist/novelist, Joan Didion states, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”  

Smart lady, that Joan.

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In her book, What’s Your Story? Marion Dane Bauer writes, “Stories help us to make sense of our world. They teach us what is possible. They let us know that others before us have struggled as we do.”

and

“The first and best reason for writing stories is to please yourself”
F. Scott Fitzgerald saw writing as a leap of faith when he professed,  “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.”

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

 Amen, sister!

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King reveals, “I have written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side- I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”
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And, as if coaching writers from afar, King adds a lesson about passion:

 “You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair-the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”

I think John Erickson, author of the Hank the Cowdog series best sums up the importance of motivation in his book, Story Craft:

 “It often happens that when we try to write something “important” such as a novel, story, or poem, we become self-conscious. We try to be profound and authorial. We concentrate on the elegance of individual sentences and forget that all writing is a communication between one person to another.”
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So, there you go. It’s just us and the readers we are communicating with. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s quite enough.



This post originally appeared on the Emus Debuts blog, February 17, 2014.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A SALE! En Garde! Abraham Lincoln's Dueling Words

A funny thing happened on the way to my publishing career. I spent years wishing, hoping, praying that I would one day see a book on the shelf with my name on the spine. I spent a small fortune on classes, workshops, conferences, and craft books. I read a bazillion books and talked to a whole bunch of professionals about writing and about their success. Those years piled up.

Today, I'm thrilled to announce that Peachtree Publishers has acquired my FOURTH book, En Garde! Abraham Lincoln's Dueling Words. I couldn't be happier.

Some of you may be shaking your head thinking, not another Lincoln book. I can assure you, this is an angle on Lincoln that you have never heard before. He made a great big naughty mistake that threatened his career and his life. He did not let that mistake define him. I hope the book will leave young readers to ponder what would have happened if Lincoln had never been President.






Erin Murphy, Kathy Landwehr, and Cynthia Levinson congratulating me from Boston. I love these ladies.


Coming soon:

Saddle Up! Riding and Competitions for Horse Lovers (Capstone, 2014)

From Head to Tail: All About Horse Care (Capstone, 2014)

Step Right Up: The Story of Beautiful Jim Key (Lee & Low, 2015)

Engarde! Abraham Lincoln's Dueling Words (Peachtree, TBD)


Friday, December 20, 2013

Letting Go: A Cautionary Tale for Control Freaks

originally posted on the Emu's Debuts blog.

I’m reflecting on the surprising angst that followed my book contract. The angst of letting go.
See, I love the inventive stage of writing. Don’t get me wrong, writing is damn hard. But, I love that evolving sense of possibility when worlds and characters spin out of thin air and land as words on the page. Imagination is magic. Even in nonfiction. From the moment I began writing my debut, STEP RIGHT UP: THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY, I occupied the story. All writers do this. Before we can add depth and motion to our words, writers visualize until our stories unfold movie-like on the big screen of our mind. We are all eager to control the script and staging. We like telling our characters what to do, what to wear, how to stand. If we can’t visualize it, we can’t write it. In the case of nonfiction, it’s about telling the truth and filling in gaps. Sometimes, that means converting 125-year-old images from two-dimensional, dingy black and white to Technicolor. In panorama. And in 3D.

While writing, the world on the page is mine, mine, mine!

I am in control. Mwahahaha!

Until I am not.

My editor had suggestions on STEP RIGHT UP. Lots of them. Some of her suggestions were that I undo some of her suggestions. Add, cut, expand, simplify, redirect, rinse, repeat… In a way, my story became a collaboration. But, as the word weaver, I still felt a sense of control. Sort of.

Until I wasn’t.

Enter, the illustrator.

I am in awe of artists who can press “copy” on their mental printers and, voila! They sketch, sculp, paint, and pixelate their visual imaginings for all the world to see. More magic!  So, I was surprised to be so full of angst as I awaited the illustrator reveal. Seriously, y’all. Angst! And worry. And maybe a tiny speck of panic. 

An illustrator will have his/her own visual interpretation. Their own image of the world Doc and Jim lived in. Their own tinted lens through which the mental movie plays for them. Aaaaack! I found myself playing the “What-if” game. What if the illustrator can’t capture Doc and Jim as I see them? What if his/her art is too silly, too serious, too dark, too light, too cartoony, too portraity, too realistic, too unrealistic?

And, besides, horses are hard to draw. Just ask the people I forced, I mean asked, to draw for me. (Some of these people may be related to me. Except for the tile guy.)
photo copy 5photo
 Arin's horse 8
photo copy 6
Donna horse 1
photo 2
Thankfully, I can be confident that an illustrator will do better. But letting go is hard. As I peruse the books on my shelf, I’m reminded that it takes many creative perspectives to create visually stunning and memorable stories. Magic multiplied. Now, I find that my illustrator angst has given way to excitement. The kind of excitement I felt, not knowing what kind of wonderfulness was wrapped under the Christmas tree. There is a childlike wonder in this anticipation.

I’m ecstatic to announce that Coretta Scott King Honor recipient, Daniel Minter will bring Doc and Jim to life through his spectacular art. Better still, Daniel and I have been communicating. He would like my input. I think I’m in heaven. Check out his work, y’all. My little book baby is in very good hands.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

An Illustrator for STEP RIGHT UP

I am so happy to announce that artist Daniel Minter will be illustrating my book, STEP RIGHT UP: THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY. It's been a long many months of waiting for this news. Now, I'm just plain giddy.

Daniel Minter is the 2013 recipient of a Coretta Scott King Honor for book illustration, he's also a fine artist of works featured in many galleries, and he's the creator of the 2004 and 2011 Kwanzaa stamp for the U.S. Postal Service. He has accomplished so much and has been involved in so many amazing organizations, I encourage you all to check out his website and his illustrated books.

I'm so very excited to see how he brings Doc and Jim to life through his art.