Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sandwich Box to Sleigh: A Recycling Story

Not all of who I am revolves around literacy, but the largest fraction of who I am does revolve around creativity in all it's forms. I love to bake, I love to sew, I love photography, and I love crafting especially when it involves turning something old into something new. So today I thought I would share with you one of my favorite Christmas crafts made from a recycled sandwich box.

It's a small sleigh that can be filled with assorted candies of your choice and looks lovely as a centerpiece. What you will need is a sandwich box (mine came from Wendy's), two individually wrapped candy canes, foe greenery or ivy, glue (I use glue dots), decorations (small berries, pine cones, bows, or whatever you like), and a small piece of wrapping paper.

First make a paper template by setting the front of the box flat on the inside of the wrapping paper. Trace the box and then carefully set it up on its bottom making sure to keep it lined up, after tracing the bottom, repeat by laying the box on it's back. Lastly set box back in the middle upright position so you can lay it to either side for tracing.Once this is done take the two candy canes and attach them to the bottom for runners. I found that package tape works best to keep them in place. Next, glue greenery to the back and sides of the inside of the box and decorate. Last but not least, fill with candy of your choice (I chose individually wrapped truffles that I bought at Aldis).

Signing of for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Author Interview...Mine

Normally I don't post about my own publicity, but today I am making an exception. And seeing that we are so close to Christmas, I will just classify it as a gift to myself. Recently a lovely woman named Laura J. Marshall asked to interview me on her blog The Old Stone Wall. She has been most kind and courteous and the final interview looks absolutely fabulous. So if you have a moment stop by her site, and if you enjoy the interview please leave her a nice comment to let her know you stopped to visit.

 Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Book Fair and A Vacation

Recently I participated in the 31st Annual Kentucky Bookfair where my husband and daughter joined me. I can't think of anything lovelier then turning an enjoyable business arrangement into a mini family vacation especially when the weather turns unseasonably warm.

The beautiful weather made it pleasant for all those attending the book event and pleasant for me to walk from my hotel to the convention center which was basically out the Capitol Plaza's back door. The downtown area was also within walking distance from our hotel where my husband and daughter spent many happy hours while I was otherwise occupied. While I was busy signing books and schmoozing with fellow authors like Lori Moore and Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton they were visiting quint shops and cafe`s.

Signing Books

Lorri Moor and I
Laurie Lazarro Knowlton and I
Once I was done for the day I was able to join my family in exploring downtown Frankfort. We made the most amazing discoveries like the singing bridge which sounds like it's humming when the cars pass over. There are walkways on either side and you can even feel the vibrations through your shoes. On the other side of the bridge was my husbands favorite find of all ~ Cajun Ricks White Light Diner which was featured on the show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The barbeque was delicious and Cajun Rick was quite entertaining as he regaled us with stories of his rise to fame and his brother's famous Cajun hot sauce.  

Downtown Frankfort

Singing Bridge

Cajun Rick's White Light Diner

On the way home after the book fair, we managed one more stop at the Newport Aquarium. I'm not sure who had more fun, my daughter or I. She and I visited the penguins up close and personal which is a once in a lifetime experience we couldn't pass up despite the price tag. We saw many other interesting creatures both large and small and my daughter even survived being attacked by a large squid. I can't remember when I've had a more enjoyable time. So if you ever have a chance to visit Kentucky, I'm sure you will have an equally wonderful time!

Swordfish Statue

Penguin Encounter

Ginning Shark

Sleepy Crocodile

Touch Tidal Pool

Fish and Coral

Jelly Fish

Lil' Eels

Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Don't Be Shy ~ Just Speak "Write" Up

Just in case you are wondering, I know that the title should actually be Don't Be Shy ~ Just Speak Right Up; but as a writer, it's sometimes fun to use a play on words. That aside, I really do wish to encourage all new authors to speak up when it comes to their book or books. Sometimes we have the tendency to allow opportunities to pass us by because we are uncomfortable about sharing with strangers. We often make excuses like there were too many people in line behind us at the cash register, or the other person was in a hurry, etc... But most of the time, that's exactly what they are ... just excuses. 

Take for instance the opportunity that I passed up last week. The day started out cold and rainy and  to top it all off, I forgot my jacket while trying to remember everything else I needed to take for the school field trip on which I would be joining my daughter. The field trip turned out to be lovely, despite my nearly freezing, and soon it was time to go home. On the way home I decided to stop at Sam's Club to fill up the old gas tank. While pumping my gas, the attendant noticed the magnet on the back of my car announcing my book, my name, and my website. He asked if I was the author of Fern Valley and proceeded to show interest in the fact that I was an author. Soon my tank was full, I said goodbye, and proceeded to get in the car.

As I sat down my seven year old daughter handed me a business card which she had pulled from the deep recesses of my large black purse and said, "Here mommy. You need to give him this!" I declined and told her I was cold and tired and just wanted to go home to which she replied, "You just don't want to sell any books do you?" It's hard to believe that such wisdom came out of a seven year old mouth, but there you have it. She was correct. I allowed my insecurities to rob me of a possible sale, and not because I was too tired or cold; but because I just didn't want it badly enough. I had thought about giving him a card before getting back into my vehicle, but had talked myself out of it because he had not specifically asked for information.

So you better believe when I had opportunity this morning I made a better choice; I made a choice to speak up. I was at a Kroger store picking up a few groceries on my way home from dropping dear daughter at school and decide to use the self checkout. The cashier in charge is always the same and so we have spoken briefly in times past. I knew from a previous conversation that she is from the town that is hosting the craft fair where I will be signing my book this weekend. I asked her if she was going to the fair and mentioned that I would be there signing my children's book.

She exclaimed that she didn't know I was an author and this led to me giving her a post card about my book (which I have printed at Vistaprint). She became very excited and wanted to buy one for her seven year old grandson. I didn't have any books on my person at the time; so I am taking her one tomorrow morning on my way home from school. An unexpected sale occurred (or will occur tomorrow) simply because I spoke up. :-)So there you have it my friends, advice from a wise seven year old that I heartily encourage you to take.

Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I Finally Ordered...

It's that time of year again when they send those lovely little Scholastic catalogs home with the children. Now to be perfectly honest, in the four years that my daughter has been attending school this is the first time I have actually ordered any books. Don't get me wrong, I love books, I buy books, but the truth of the matter is that I am frugal. Okay, okay I will say it; I am the Queen of CHEAP!

But this year they had some dollar selections which is a price right up my alley. I bought two books for Emily. I bought the classic Charlotte's Web and a National Geographic book called Dog Finds Lost Dolphins. I know, who could resist Charlotte's Web for a dollar; and Emily loves dogs so any book involving one of those great animals is sure to please.

Emily hasn't started reading Charlotte's Web yet, but she has seen the equally famous movie; so I can't wait to see what she thinks of the book. As a child I always loved to compare books and movies and I'm pretty sure the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree where she is concerned.

Since neither of us have read Dog Finds Lost Dolphins, it will be fun to explore this book together. And since it is a true story, it should be even more exciting then usual. So what great book bargains have you found lately? As the Queen of Cheapness, I not only love to get a bargain, I love to hear about other people's bargains as well. 

Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Mothers, Bloggers, and Panera Bread

Yesterday I had the pleasure to join six other wonderful moms from around Ohio at the first ever BlogOh event. We met at Columbus which is pretty much smack dab in the center of the state and therefore not too much of a drive for most everyone. Another fun bonus was the fact that we met in the conference room of the local Panera Bread which was another first for this gal. I personally recommend the frozen berry drink!

Although I have been blogging for a couple of years now in a sort of hit or miss manner, I thought it would be great fun to attend this blogging event and maybe learn a little something along the way. The first thing I learned was that mom bloggers are way more serious about blogging then I ever imagined. I had no idea the extent of sway a really good mom blogger can have over an audience and I am in awe of the ladies I met.

Our organizer, Tonya, writes about her families travels @ her site The Traveling Praters. Jenilee the FaceBook friend who invited me, writes the most interesting antidotes about her family @ her site Our Goodwin Journey. Fellow mom, Stacey, writes a funny blog called I'm A Lazy Mom. Heather, from the Cincinnatti area, is working on starting a fresh blog. And co-bloggers Mona and Valerie blog about what's happening in Columbus on their site Social Moms Around Columbus. Although each attendee and their perspective blogs happen to be very different, what each lady has in common is an enthusiasm and joy for sharing their lives and connecting with others. Blogging takes hours of their time but it is done with such love and talent that the reader probably never takes thought into the effort that goes into each and every post.

What I personally came away with  from the experience was a group of new friends and a rejuvenated desire to blog and blog well. Not only does blogging help me connect with potential fans for my book, Fern Valley, but it also helps me to continue to perfect my writing. And if someone gets a chuckle out of something I say, finds a book worth reading, or a finds some useful tips to help them in their own writing journey, then that's just icing on the cake.

Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Islands of Imagination

Books can be many things to many people. They can be a comfort like a hot bowl of soup on a cold day, they can be entertainment, they can be informative, and they can be islands of imagination taking us on journeys to places we would never go otherwise.

One of my greatest joys is the fact that almost daily my daughter and I share a book or two and take these journey's together. Just recently we shared some fun discoveries while reading the book The Island of Skog by Steven Kellog.

 The Island of Skog is a story of mice trying to find freedom and a place to live in peace. They find an  island home perfect in every way except for the sole skog inhabitant who tries to scare them off. The story is quite entertaining, the illustrations quite fine, and I was certainly surprised to find out who the skog really was. So if you and your child like a little bit of mystery you need to get this book and find out who the skog is for your selves.

As a side note, I was excited to see that this copy, borrowed from the school library, was autographed by Mr. Kellog. He even drew a little skog holding a heart next to his name.

Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Busy Season...

Once again we are headed into that wonderful, beautiful, and completely busy season which starts with the approach of autumn and lasts til the end of the year. There is the beginning of the school year where both adults and children alike have to adjust to getting up early, a new schedule, and going to bed early. For me, it also means I have to start scheduling my time to fit in all the holiday party preparations, field trips, and teacher projects I am involved in as the second grade room mother.

Besides my school projects, I will also have the inevitable leaves to rake along with family holiday preparations, the children's display case I am in charge of at the library, my weekly co-blog, the upcoming Kentucky Book Fair, and four craft fairs. Not to mention a school walk-a-thon,  an Ohio Mom Blogger's meeting, a couple of birthdays, Black Friday, Christmas shopping, and a January birthday to plan for my daughter. And believe me when I say it will take me from now until January to plan the party especially if it involves painting cardboard scenery!

Oh, and did I mention that I am repainting my kitchen cupboards and my outdoor shed? Like I said, the start of the busy season. The funny thing is, that I love to be busy and have things penciled in my schedule book. Don't get me wrong, I like to relax as much as the next person; but sometimes it's nice to be busy and feel like you are getting a lot accomplished.

And sometimes I even manage to fit in a fun project like the basic illustration project I am working on while my daughter is at school. Normally I just write material and I don't illustrate because I sadly lack the natural drawing talent, but recently I participated in a live session with famed author Jarret J. Krosoczka. He made illustrating look so easy (I certainly can attest to the fact that it is not) that I thought I would give it a try. I never would have guessed that you should sketch your rough draft in a blue colored pencil because it won't show up when you scan the finished product; and since I don't have the talent to use Indian ink like Jarret to outline the final product, I just use a black sharpie. Then I whiz it off to my paint program and color it in.Granted my illustrations are pretty basic and still need some work, but they are pretty exciting to make.

So what is going to keep you busy this season?

Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Tale of Two Books...

A few weeks ago I was speaking with our children's librarian, Miss Robin, about a plagiarism issue a friend of mine from the UK is having. This apparently made her think of two very similar books she had read that were published only a year apart. She became very excited about the matter, found both books, and requested that I read them to see what I thought. The first book was entitled Where the Ground Meets the Sky and the second The Green Glass Sea.

Since I was in-between books I took them home and decided to compare the two. Both books were set in the 1940's during World War II and happened to be about the secret facility in Los Almos where scientists and mathematicians from around the world were working to create the atomic bomb. After reading both books, I came to the conclusion that no plagiarism was involved, but I did understand why Miss Robin might have thought there was. Each book used a young girl who was above average intelligence for the main character, each book had a cat and a dog mentioned, each book had a group of boys with a secret club house,  each book had a second young girl totally opposite the first girl as a second main character, and each book used similar terminology. The terminology similarities make sense to me since each author was clearly using words and terms from the nineteen forties, but there were enough differences in the writing and style of  each book to rule out plagiarism.

In case you are wondering what I thought about the books in general, I will give a short review for each. I read Where the Ground Meets the Sky first, so I will begin with it. I love Jacqueline Davies very descriptive style of writing which pulled me in from the beginning. It was a superbly well written book about a horrific true life event, but I was saddened that the main character's mother seemed to be either an atheist or one of those people who simply can't decide what to believe. As a Christian, I would have preferred to see a character who believed in something, but that aside it was still a well written story. The ending is quite sad and has the mother unable to cope with what her husband had helped to create, but that is probably a realistic outcome for this chapter in mankind's history.

Despite its award winning status, I didn't enjoy The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages nearly as well. This was not because it was poorly written, but because it was written in what I believe was second person instead of the traditional third person. The unusual use of person kept throwing me when I read. I did keep reading, however, and found that this book also had a sad ending with the main character's father being killed in an automobile accident.

Although both these books seemed historically accurate for fictional stories and both portray sad situations that were probably accurate to the time period, I personally tend to like happier endings. But if you don't mind sad endings, then perhaps you might want to check these books out for yourselves.

Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Alas, I'm No Princess...

Do you ever become reminded of  books, stories, or past memories in an unusual way? Sometimes that is the most fun. Recently I woke up one morning and found, much to my amusement, that I had slept on two small bicycle helmets belonging to my seven year old daughter's Polly Pockets.

For those of you who are familiar with Polly Pockets, you know they are very small dolls with a myriad of accessories and rubber clothes. What you might not know, however, is the fact that there are some pint sized Pollys about half the size of the originals. So you can well imagine that the bicycle helmets for the pint size versions are only about the size of a very large pea.

Picking up those pea sized helmets from my bed, I began to laugh. What was I laughing at you ask? Why the story of The Princess and the Pea of course. You know, that old Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale that tells of the princess who slept uncomfortably on a huge stack of mattresses because someone had placed a pea underneath the bottom mattress. Apparently the fact that she was able to feel the pea was the tell tale sign that she was true royalty.

Since I obviously did not feel the peas I was sleeping on, peas that were right under me and not even under a stack of mattresses, I am not a princess. Saddened as I am by that knowledge, I think I will survive. I might even go to the library and see if I can find a copy of The Princess and the Pea to share with my daughter, who for some unknown reason, was playing where I sleep.

Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Celebrating With Jo Linsdell

Hello everyone. Today I am hosting a great new author, Jo Linsdell, as she travels on her virtual tour with her children's book "Out and About at the Zoo". This book is a colorful, simple, and fun book perfect for the very young. Join a small boy on a journey to the zoo with his mum and enjoy the animals they meet there. You can get your very own copy @ Amazon or you can pop on over to my Face Book Fan Page and enter to win a free e-copy.

Be sure to stop by her personal website as well to find great items like downloadable activity packs and animal masks. It's sure to be a blast, so come join the celebration!

Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Feel Good Power of Earning Something!

Did you ever want something really badly? Well, one of my Fern Valley kids knows exactly how you feel. Sammie Gruff, an only child and somewhat shy individual, recently saw a bike that she wanted and this is the story of her and that bike.


The Bike

It was shiny chrome and candy apple red with a white basket and a squeaker horn. It was absolutely the best bike Sammie Gruff had ever seen. As she stood there admiring the new bike at the end of the ladder aisle in Mr. Flocks Hardware store, she could already imagine herself riding it down the main street. Sammie had a dream that she had never told anyone yet, and that was to own a brand new girl’s bike.
Sammie had an old bike which had been handed down to her from a cousin. But it was a boy’s bike with no basket and lots of dings and scrapes. It wasn’t that she was ungrateful for the bike. Sammie was always the most grateful and pleasant goat you could find in Fern Valley. Any of her friends would tell you so. It was just that she had never had a brand new bike before.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said under her breath.
“What did you say dear,” said Mr. Flock who was walking past with a box of new hammers. He set them down and began scratching behind his wooly black head. “Now where am I going to put these hammers,” he said to no one in particular. He had already forgotten he had even asked Sammie a question. Mr. Flock was like that. He was one of the nicest sheep you could ever meet and an extremely fair merchant, but he was easily distracted.
“Nothing,” Sammie answered as she left the store and headed for home. Four blocks down from the Hardware store and three more blocks to the left was Sammie’s home. It was a beautiful Victorian house with stained glass windows and an enormous front porch. As she let herself in the front door, she could hear her mother singing in the kitchen.
Sammie’s mother Martha was in the same choir as Betsy Woolrich’s Grandmother and could often be found singing hymns as she cooked, cleaned, or just sat relaxing. It always made Sammie feel warm and happy inside to hear her mother sing joyfully to the Lord.
Sammie went into the kitchen and sat down at the table. Her mother was putting a noodle casserole in the stove, so she didn’t see or hear Sammie come in. When she turned around, she let out a startled noise. “Oh hello muffin, I didn’t hear you come in,” she said. “So what have you been up to this fine summer day,” she asked?
“Well,” Sammie said a bit hesitantly, “I was at the hardware store and I saw the most beautiful bike ever made.”
“Really, said her mother with a smile in her eyes. “And what made this particular bike so beautiful?”
Sammie spent the next ten minutes explaining the beauties of the bike. It’s shiny chrome, its perfect color, the useful basket, its newness, and the fact that it was made for a girl. Her hesitancy turned to excitement as she explained the dream she had to own such a bike.
“I see,” said her mother. “Well, let’s discuss it when daddy comes home from work.”
It was another hour before Mr. Gruff got home and they sat down to dinner. As her mother scooped generous helpings of noodle casserole and green beans onto each plate, Sammie told her father all about the bike.
“Since you already had your birthday last month, perhaps we could come to some sort of an agreement if you really want this bike.”
“Oh yes, daddy,” Sammie nodded eagerly.
“You might want to wait until you hear the bargain,” he laughed. Mr. Gruff agreed to pay for half of the bike if Sammie would pay for the other half. This meant that she would have to do extra chores around the house and neighborhood to earn enough money.
Since the bike sold for forty dollars, she needed twenty dollars to pay for her half. She had seven dollars left from her birthday, so that meant she had to come up with another thirteen dollars. She thought that should be a cinch. Well, she hoped it would a cinch. She noticed Mrs. Rocky the elderly goat who lived next door had a lot of weeds in her flower garden. Maybe in the morning she would see if Mrs. Rocky needed help weeding.
Sammie was awake with the sun the next morning, and after quickly dressing and practically inhaling a bowl of cereal she was out the door. She rang Mrs. Rocky’s doorbell and patiently waited. When Mrs. Rocky answered the door, she invited her in.     
“It’s so good to see you dear,” she said.
“It’s nice to see you too Mrs. Rocky,” Sammie said politely.
“And what are you up to this summer.”
“Well,” said Sammie who was suddenly attacked with a case of shyness, “I was wondering if you had any odd jobs like weeding that I could do. I’m trying to save money for a new bike.”
Mrs. Rocky smiled encouragingly at Sammie. “As a matter of fact dear, I could really use some help weeding the flowers. I could also use some help cleaning out the attic. You know I’m not as young as I used to be.”
So after a few instructions, Sammie got busy weeding. Mrs. Rocky had a large lot with several flower beds, so it took Sammie the better part of the morning and afternoon to finish the weeding. After she was done, they agreed that the attic would have to wait until the next day.
“Mother, Mrs. Rocky paid me two dollars for weeding her flowers,” Sammie said excitedly as soon as she got home.
“That’s wonderful dear,” her mother said as she added some pepper to the black bean soup she was making. “How much more do you need?”
“I only need eleven more dollars. And tomorrow I am going to help Mrs. Rocky clean out her attic.”
“Well, that should be quite interesting. I don’t think Mrs. Rocky has cleaned out that attic for at least twenty years.”
Sammie’s mother was right. Mrs. Rocky’s attic was crammed full of odds-n-ends of things. In one corner stood several tall dressers with old clothes peeking out of the overstuffed drawers and in the other corner were all manner of lamps, baby strollers, tricycles, plant pots, pictures, and boxes. Everything was covered in a fine layer of dust which made Mrs. Rocky and Sammie start to sneeze. “Why don’t you begin by opening those two windows,” said Mrs. Rocky.
They spent the whole day dusting, sorting, and organizing. One pile was to be picked up by the thrift store man, one pile was to be given to Mrs. Rocky’s grandchildren, and one pile was for the trash barrel. Sammie began carrying the trash pile down an armload at a time. By the time the two of them finished the attic, Sammie was one dirty, hungry, and tired child.
“You’ve done a fine job Sammie,” said Mrs. Rocky as she handed her a ten dollar bill.
Sammie could hardly believe it. She had never earned ten whole dollars before. She hugged Mrs. Rocky so hard she about toppled the woman over. This meant she would only need to earn one more dollar. Sammie thanked Mrs. Rocky again and headed home to show her mother.
As she lay in bed that night, Sammie wondered what she could do to earn that last dollar. Nothing came to mind immediately so she just said her prayers and went to sleep.
The next morning when her father had learned she only needed one more dollar he asked if she wanted to help him wash the car.
“Oh, yes daddy. Thank you very much.”
Sammie was eager to earn her last dollar, but she also wanted to do a good job for her daddy so she took her time. Her father washed and rinsed the high parts and Sammie washed and rinsed the low parts and the wheels. Finally they were done and Sammie had enough for her half of the bike purchase.
“Can we go to the hardware store now,” she begged her father.
“Yes, muffin, I just need to grab my keys and wallet from the house,” he said.
Sammie was already in the car waiting when her father returned. He just smiled and got in the car. Sammie, who was usually pretty quiet, chatted all the way to Mr. Flocks. Once there, she quickly found Mr. Flock and told him she wanted to purchase the bike. As she counted out her twenty dollars and added it to the twenty her father had already set on the counter, Sammie felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Not only would she be the owner of the most beautiful girl’s bike ever made, she had also worked hard to earn it and that felt really good.
“I’ll see you at home,” she told her father as she mounted her new bike outside of the hardware store.
“OK muffin,” he said. “Have a good ride home.”
“I will daddy,” she said. And he knew that she would.

If you enjoyed this story of how Sammie learned as she earned, then you will probably also enjoy the other eleven stories in my book Fern Valley-A Collection of Short Stories which is available in both paperback and Kindle versions. So what are you waiting for, go get your very own copy right now.

Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Getting to Know Author Joyce Dunbar

Last year I met Author Joyce Dunbar in the most unusual way; I asked her for an interview because I mistook her for another author. You can probably imagine how embarrassed I was to realize my mistake which I discovered when she mentioned that her Mouse and Mole series was no longer in print. I was certain that the copy my daughter and I had checked out from the library had been a current book. When I went back to search the internet and find out exactly what book we had been reading, I found that we had read a book by a Mr. Wong Herbert Yee also entitled Mouse and Mole. Upon further research by both Joyce and I, we found disturbing similarities to her work; but that is a story for another day.

Over the span of the last year as I have had the pleasure of getting to know Joyce better, I have found her to be an extraordinarily talented author, and it is my hope that you enjoy getting to know my friend from across the pond as much as I have!

1. Hello Joyce, tell us a little bit about yourself: Where you are from, how many books have you had published, how did you get your start, etc…
I come from the industrial north of England, but now live in the beautiful medieval City of Norwich - which has just become Unesco City of Literature. I've published over 80 books, and have several more in the pipeline. I knew I wanted to be a writer as soon as I discovered Shakespeare and spent several years trying out different forms - poetry, plays, journalism, short stories. It was when I married a lawyer with ambitions to become an illustrator that I found my forte - children's books. JUGG, published in 1980 and illustrated by my husband, was accepted immediately by the first publisher to see it. Unfortunately, the publisher went out of business and the book hardly made it to the shops. 

But I'd started! I'd written and published a book. I still have many copies in my attic.

 2. What were some of your favorite books as a child?

 I didn't come from a bookish household - but my mother was an avid reader and my father read TOM SAWYER & HUCKLEBERRY FINN to us - which was life changing, because Mark Twain was the only author I could name at an interview for the Grammar School. Other than that, I loved Fairy Tales and Fables. My brother bought me JOHNY APPLESEED, which I loved also. I didn’t really discover children’s books until my own children were born.

3. How long did it take you to get your first book published? Were there ever moments when you became discouraged?

I was 35 when my first book was published. I felt very discouraged when the publisher said he would have to pulp them. I bought the whole lot - and couldn't write for two years afterwards. I was then asked to do some radio stories - which got me an agent. I was on my way.

Writing is a bit like gardening, onlookers see only the plants that flourish, the gardener sees the ones that didn't. While others can see my many published books, I know about the many unpublished ones, and the projects that stalled. This isn't a complaint. No one ever said a career as an author is easy. Nor should it be. 

4. What made you decide to write for Children/YA age groups? Are you currently working on any new projects?

Simply that my husband was a very visual person - and so was I. The book was a kind of love letter to him - all the more precious to me because the marriage didn't last. For me there is no greater joy than seeing an illustrator translate my words into pictures. I love the whole process, the first look, the problem solving, and the finished book.

Yes, I'm always working on a new project. I have a new book coming out in October, called PUSS JEKYLL, CAT HYDE, and another called TWINKLE, TWINKLE SQUIGLET PIG, which is being brilliantly illustrated at the moment. I have started an adult book, and may concentrate on that for a couple of years.

5. What do you find the most difficult part of being an author?

Well - you are always pushing your boundaries, so the point where you find your strength is also the point where you find your weaknesses. I write a lot of rubbish to begin with - and think I have set myself an impossible task. The trick is to stay with it, to wait for that magic moment of breakthrough. But there can be weeks of despondency where I think I am finished. Mainly, I think writers have to make themselves available - to sit on the chair and stare.

I have interests rather than hobbies, though I used to sew, knit and paint. I was a very keen gardener for many years. Now my interests are traveling, walking, theatre, Art galleries, people watching, animals, and of course, reading.

6. What words of encouragement would you give to children who might not be great readers yet?

I would say 
READ, because reading is food for the brain. 
READ, because reading helps you to find out about lives you haven't lived, 
READ, because language is power, 
READ because it helps you to grow as a person and find out who you are. 
READ because reading is fun, fascinating, interesting.

People who don't read are at the moment closing libraries, cutting educational budgets, and rolling back the years of progress that has made literacy and culture available to everyone, thus adding to their numbers. They are a real threat.

7. What words of wisdom do you have for new authors?


8. Of which accomplishment are you the most proud?

I think any mother would say, my children. My daughter Polly is a writer and illustrator, my son is a fashion photographer. I now have a grand daughter too. Of course, I am proud of my books - it means I have left an imprint of the person I am. I'm also proud of overcoming many major setbacks, and of living just where I'm meant to live. 

I think I am very fortunate to have had a 32 year long career in a golden age of children’s books. All this is under threat now, from the digital revolution. But I think parents will always want real books for their children, with pages to turn, to smell, pore over. Real books are friends in ways that e-books can never be. 

9. Do you have any other information you would like to share, such as a website, author page, awards won, etc.?
I don't like listing awards. I don't even remember them. But I do have a website www.joycedunbar.com where you can find out all sorts of other things you might like to know and ask me any more questions.

10. And last but not least, please tell us anything else of interest that I have neglected to ask.

Illustrator Debi Gliori and I came to the States on a book tour in 2002 to promote TELL ME SOMETHING HAPPY BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP. We were meant to go in September 2001 - but then came 9/11. So the trip was postponed until 2002. By then the book had been picked up by psychologists and reviewers as a way to help children feel secure again. We traveled mainly in Texas - ending up in New York. 

What amazed me about America was the sheer enthusiasm, the queues and crowds of people, the welcome, and the hospitality. Here, people don't make a fuss. It's considered bad form to promote yourself or boast about awards. So on the whole, I keep a low profile.

I wrote this particular book long before 1996 as a way of making myself feel secure after my husband had left, my children had gone to university, my cat died, my best friend committed suicide and my agent retired. I just wanted to wake up in the morning and find everyone in place! 

I didn't dream, for a moment, that it would in future bring solace to others in the face of such a dire tragedy. But that is the power of story, to transform, to reach through time and space. It illustrates the way in which a writer can turn life around, their own, and others. It also makes the point that children's books can be anything but childish. They address the big questions of loss and grief and change, but in metaphor, rather than literally.

Another best seller is THIS IS THE STAR, the story of the Nativity, illustrated by Gary Blythe.

One other thing I should mention is that I am a deaf lip-reader. My first novel MUNDO AND THE WEATHER CHILD, was about a deaf child and his imaginary companion which was runner up for the Guardian Award (one that I do remember). Also, because there are so few picture books for deaf children - I wrote MOONBIRD illustrated by Jane Ray. This has been performed in Singapore - they invited me over for a week, Thailand, and France. Deafness is very limiting in all sorts of ways - mainly the phone - but it gives you a unique angle which is very good for writers. Thank goodness for e-mail!

I have never lived in the deaf community - when I was young it meant rejection and ridicule - so I masqueraded as a hearing person to the point where I taught Shakespeare for 20 years, 10 of them in his birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, where we lived for 10 years. I teach on a Greek island, run writing course and regularly visit schools. I speak normally and most people don't realize I am deaf until I tell them - or they speak to the back of me.

I hope this will be of interest to you and your readers.

All good wishes


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Cross Promoting

One of the things I learned early on in my writing career is the benefit of helping fellow authors. Cross promoting is beneficial for both parties because it opens up a broader audience then either author would have alone. Cross promoting reminds me of the story of Stone Soup where each person brought one thing to add to the pot of soup. When each person added their one item, the soup became complete and plentiful enough for all to share.

I have tried to cross promote fellow authors since the start. I have tweeted, posted, and touted the talents of many, but recently I have been making efforts to make my Face Book page more useful. One of the ways I have devised to do this is by creating catchy names for each day of the week. I now have Sensational Sunday, Marvelous Monday, Tantalizing Tuesday, Wonderful Wednesday, Thoughtful Thursday, Fantastic Friday, and Satisfying Saturday. Having established interesting days of the week, I now promote at least one or sometimes two fellow children's authors per day. When mixed in with all my regular Fern Valley news it makes for a very lively site that I think my fans are enjoying even more then before.

So my advice to authors everywhere is to find others who write in a genre similar to yours and start working together. And while you're at it, stop by Fern Valley's site even if it's just to say hi.

Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

City On a Hill - Guest Post by Darlene Shortridge

Besides blogging on this, my personal site, I also blog collectively with six other Christian ladies five of them who are writers like myself. Recently one of my collaborators posted this story called a City On a Hill. This story was eloquently written and touched me deeply in the spiritual way in which it was intended, but it also spoke to the writer in me. As writers we daily deal with rejection, fear, writer's block, criticism, bad reviews, and so forth and so on. And as with anything else in life, we have two choices to make: defeat or fortification.

Darlene Shortridge, one of my Sisters In Cahoots and the author of City On a Hill, graciously allowed me to re-post her article. I hope you find the same inspiration in it as I did.

~There once was a city, ravaged by forces so brutal, so tremendous that the city forgot how to breathe. On occasion it would gasp, sucking for air, trying to give the impression of life, of vitality. Only a fool would be convinced of its longevity, for certainly death was knocking at its gate.

The people of this city were afraid. They saw monsters behind every closet door and heard creaks and moaning, even when there were none. They hid in their homes, behind closed doors fearful of what might come next.

Upon entering this city, a visitor felt the oppression. The heaviness would weigh on his shoulders, increasing the load he must carry. He soon felt the desire to flee the city in a desperate attempt to preserve what hope he had left. If he waited too long the city would overtake him and his thoughts of flight would be no more.

The city walls began to crumble, some from the terrible force that evaded and some from the lack of care by its inhabitants. Truly, this city had been read its last rites.

There was another city, which was also attacked by brutal forces. For a moment, this city forgot to breathe. Then as if a life giving force whispered in its ear, this city found its feet and clamored from the ground that wanted to envelop it.

The people of this city shed their fear. They exposed the monsters behind their closet doors and eliminated the occasional creaks and moaning. They threw open their shades and unlocked their doors. They embraced the future and looked forward to a bright sunny tomorrow.

Visitors felt the electricity upon entering this city. It was a place they could put down roots. They felt alive and free, ready to embrace this new world to which they traveled. The possibilities seemed endless and the opportunities were abundant. Visitors did not wish to leave, but instead grafted into the vine of the bloodline of this city, becoming one of its own.

The city walls were built up, fortified. Expansion was within the realm of possibility. New met new and the old passed away. The air was intoxicating and invigorating. Truly, this city was a city of life.

Which city are you? Are you a city dying at the hand of ravaging storms or are you a city that breathes deep and becomes stronger when trials and tribulation come your way?

Are you a city that lies down, defeated? Or are you a city that fortifies and conquers when adversity strikes?

Are you a city hiding in a valley from which visitors flee? Or are you a city on a hill, a beacon to the lost?

Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.

Thanks for taking the time to grow with me!
Darlene Shortridge

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Top Ten Things That Should Be On Your Author Website

From time to time I like to share with fellow authors, especially new authors, the things that I have learned on my publishing journey. One of the things I have learned is the importance of having a website. A website is important for  many reasons, one of them being that having a home base with all your pertinent information in one place is helpful for fans, potential customers, and media. So with that in mind, here are the top ten things that should be found on your author website.

Home Page-  Every author website should begin with a home page. This is the landing page for everyone who stops by and it is also the page where you make your first and hopefully best impression. Be sure to include your name, the name of your site, and your branding message. In other words, what do you stand for as a writer, what do you promote, what can people expect from you. My branding message is "Kids Who Read Can Do Anything". This not only lets my readers know that I promote children's literacy, but it also lets them know how important I think good reading skills are for children's future success.

Bio- Every author website should have an interesting biography because lets face it, people are a curious lot. Readers want to know about the authors whose books they find intriguing. They want to know where you live, what other hobbies you have, and what makes you tick. This helps them to connect to you on a personal level and when people feel connected they are more likely to care and share!

Book List & Synopsis- Readers need to know what books you have available and what each book is about. A brief synopsis of your book or books gives them a taste of your writing style, allows them to see what genres you write in, and if well written, will wet their appetites. This is also the place to add the covers of your book or books because we all know a picture is worth a thousand words.

Easy To Find Contact Info- Contact information is a key ingredient. Fans want you to be accessible and the media don't want to have to dig for information if they are interested in you and your product. I usually make my mailing address available for those readers wishing to send me letters or pictures; each which  fills me with delight when it arrives.

Reviews and Interviews- Reviews and Interviews are an authors credibility builders. They show possible customers that there is an established audience for the work. People are leery to read books by authors of whom they have never heard and generally wish to see recommendations before making a decision of their own. Make note that links to reviews and interviews should always be made to appear in a separate window so that potential fans remain on your site until they choose to leave.

Availability- Today's customers like everything they come across to be user friendly and nothing turns them off as quickly as a site that doesn't allow them to effortlessly find what they are looking for. Links to the various places that your book/books are available should be assembled in one easy to find place. And similar to review and interview links, they should be made to appear in separate windows.

Events Page- Now that you are a published author, you want to connect with the public and this is the page that allows you to do just that. This is the page where you share your projects such as an upcoming book, a book launch, a contest or promotion, book signings, and any speaking engagements. People want to know what you are doing and where can meet you in person, so be sure to keep this page up to date.

Current Picture- As stated earlier, people are a curious lot. Not only do they want to feel that they know all about you, they also want to know what you look like. The more people recognize you from your picture, the more people will remember you; the more people remember you, the more likely they are to share with others about you and your work. This another great way to build credibility.

Added Value Content- Added value content are pages that draw the reader back over and over again, pages that show the reader that you are not totally self absorbed, pages that offer the reader something of value.Value content can be almost anything you think your target audience would be interested in. My audience consists primarily of mothers of children from six to twelve; I, therefore, offer pages introducing other great children's books that I recommend, craft sites, recipes, safe sites for kids, etc...

A Call To Action- And last but not least, you need a call to action. A call to action is exactly what you want your visitors to do before leaving your site. As an author, I have two things I want my visitors to do before they leave. I want them to comment on what they think about my site, and I want them to buy my book. On my home page I state that I would like people to look around, find something useful, and then leave me a comment about the site. Underneath this statement I have placed a comment box for them to do this. I have also placed, on several pages, small "buy now" buttons that are linked to my book's Amazon page.These buttons make it easy for people to go right to the point of sale.

And there my friends you have a list of what content should be in an authors website. Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Those Great How To Books!

There are so many great books to read for the sheer pleasure of reading, but often we forget about what I like to call the "How To Books". These are books that instruct us how to do some particular thing like crafts, building with Legos, gardening, and much more. Cook books are a big hit at our house because I love to cook and my daughter loves to help me. She loves to help so much that she told me when she was four, "I am a good cook mommy. I know how to make coffee (this from watching my husband), sandwiches, cereal, and salads." Now that she is seven, her expertise includes toasting bagels and English muffins. She has also helped me with many a batch of cookies, brownies, and cakes.   

As an avid collector of old cookbooks found at auctions, garage sales, thrift stores, and bargain basement rummage sales at local churches, I wondered if my Betty Crocker's Cook Book for Boys and Girls was still available. Much to my surprise, this 1957 classic can still be found at Amazon. I thought with summer quickly approaching I would try to involve Emily in more cooking projects. Two particular recipes that I think will be fun to try are the Ice Cream Cone Cakes (who wouldn't love one of those?) and the Good Kid Cookies which look like faces of boys and girls.

At the end of summer perhaps I'll post a pictures of our creations. Meanwhile, I would love to hear what kind of "How To Books" you and your sprouts like? 

Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!