Are you missing in-person events?

In the last year and a half authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, publishers and book sellers are missing in-person events. So I thought I’d share a post I wrote after I was at the ALA conference in Chicago in 2017. This is why in-person events are so special!

 I loved my elementary school librarian and her wonderful quiet space filled with books waiting to be explored. She always knew just what to recommend and, when she saw that my appetite for books exceeded my weekly check-out limit, she suggested that a friend and I pick our books together and trade halfway through the week. For me, librarians know where to find all the answers and all the good books, so it was an honor to be invited to sign copies of my new book, The Day I Ran Away, and my upcoming No More Noisy Nights at the American Library Association Conference in Chicago, where so many lovers of books and knowledge gather in one place.

Although I’d seen the list of exhibitors online, I was awestruck by the number of booths, their size and scope, and the variety of publishers and industry-related products represented. As my husband and I wandered the halls prior to my signing, I pointed out publishers with whom I’d had contact over the years (too many rejection letters to count!) and looked for books I’d seen reviewed. I noticed some LONG lines of excited attendees waiting for an author’s signature, and then other authors with no line at all. I grew a bit apprehensive, as my signing time got closer. Would people want copies of my books?

We found the booth and were met by the wonderful staff of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), who distribute for Flashlight Press and hundreds of other independent publishers. The author who was signing before me did have a line, and in fact, ran overtime into my slot to give away as many books as possible. When the IPG staff member announced that they’d run out of her books, I piped up and suggested that folks wait, because I’d be giving away books in a few minutes too. Librarians love books, especially free ones! They asked what my books were, so we handed out two samples which they looked at and passed down the line to share.

By the time I began signing, I had my own line of excited librarians who were thrilled that they didn’t have to choose between The Day I Ran Away and No More Noisy Nights, but could have one of each. Although I had less than a minute with each librarian, it was exciting to speak with people from all over the US and Canada. With the ALA conference in Chicago this year, many attendees were from the Midwest, but folks also came from California, Texas, Utah, New York, North Carolina, Maine, Florida, Arkansas, and more that I cannot recall. There were public and private school librarians, university librarians, and public librarians. Many were gifting their free books to family or friends, and others were donating to their schools. I loved hearing their enthusiasm not only for my books, but for their work in sharing books with children. 

Before I knew it, my time was up, and IPG cut me off! Several people then asked my husband if I could sign for them, so we moved to the corner of the booth and gave away a few more of the remaining books. In all, we gave away about 160 books!

One last highlight: the IPG booth was located near the Library of Congress booth, and it was heartening to see Carla Hayden, the new director, being treated like a rock star with interviews and people clamoring for a moment of her time! When my first picture book was released in 2004, my son was excited to point out that a copy would be forever kept in the Library of Congress. An amazing thing to think about! 

It was such an uplifting day! Librarians know that reading is essential to understanding ourselves, our world, and our place in it. When we learn how to “find friends” in books, we are never alone. It is my hope that these wonderful librarians will create lifelong readers, and lifelong readers will help make this world a better place.

Run away home?

Have you ever wanted to run away? Maybe you are thinking, YES, just yesterday when the work was crazy, the car needed an oil change and the refrigerator had somehow eaten all the food and was wanting to be filled AGAIN. 

Now you do remember wanting to run away when you were a child? I think most children do at some point.  The injustices of childhood loom large.  Everything happens above you. Decisions big (we’re having another baby) and small (blueberry yogurt instead of cherry) are made without you.  Just when you are in the middle of something important (the biggest block tower ever) it’s bedtime, and it seems the rules are constantly changing (don’t lie, unless the neighbor got an ugly haircut).

In Noisy Nora, by Rosemary Wells and A Baby Sister for Frances, by Russell Hoban the main character feels ignored and replaced because a new sibling has arrived.  And Max in Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak has suffered the injustice of being sent to bed without any supper.  And so, they run away to escape. In my book, The Day I Ran Away, Grace feels she’s been wrongly banished to her room and packs up to run away only to be thwarted by the fact that she’s not allowed to cross the street. 

As a child I remember one time packing my little suitcase and heading down the road (I actually just went next door), but mostly when I needed to “escape” I picked up a book.  When the weather allowed, I took my book to swing under a willow tree.  Books allowed me to forget my problems big and small and they gave me examples of how others solve their problems.

Being a child or a grown up can be difficult.  Wanting to run away may just mean we need to escape for a bit so we can face our problem with fresh eyes. And when we return we might hope a good dinner is on the table!

Grace comes home for Spaghetti and Meatballs, her favorite! I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s her favorite because it’s a family favorite often requested when my kids are returning home.

In honor of Pasta Day (yesterday) this month’s recipe is early!

The Niner meatballs and sauce recipes. Be sure to use the slider to see both!

Word Clouds & Mental Health

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. Whether or not you or a loved one struggles with a mental health problem it is important to understand them. To understand their impact on individuals, families and communities.

Because my son has OCD I had first hand knowledge about OCD and it’s impact on him and our family. That is what lead me to write Mr. Worry: A story about OCD. And that lead to I Can’t Stop: A story about Tourette syndrome.  Through my books I’ve been able to interact with individuals and families with these disorders.

This summer I was honored to be asked to participate in the International OCD Foundation’s virtual summer camp for kids. I was amazed! They create a wonderful virtual camp for kids from all over the world. They were able to listen to speakers and interact with each other and amazing volunteers.

My part was small. I read Mr. Worry and then took questions. I was awed by the questions and insight these elementary age kids had about themselves and OCD. While I didn’t get to see any, my activity was for them to make word clouds about themselves because it is important to realize that you are more than your disorder.

Try making a word cloud. Think about words that tell about you. Or make one about feelings you have, people in your life, things you’d like to do.

Are you an A.U.T.H.O.R?

Author is defined by Merriam-Webster for Kids as: a person who creates a written work. I like to share that definition with students because it is encouraging.  If you put the words on paper, you are an author.  You are a wordsmith, but you must also be brave and thick-skinned. If you want to be a published author, putting words on paper is just the first step. And there are things you can do to increase your chance of success.

Understanding the business of publishing is one key to success.  It is a business that involves many people, all of whom are hoping to make a living. I did not find success as an author until I began to study the business. The knowledge gained helped me target submissions and decreased the sting of rejection! For example, understanding how many submissions a publisher receives vs how many books they publish a year is eye opening, as is a look at resources like Publishers Weekly.  Any given week, a majority of their top 25 picture book best sellers were written decades ago.

Tenacity, according to my invaluable Flip Dictionary, is a synonym for patience and persistence.  Two of the words I wanted to use, but there’s no P in AUTHOR. However, maybe tenacity is really the right word. And writing is about finding the right word. Tenacity involves patience, persistence and determination.  To be a published author you cannot give up or be discouraged.  Despite the overnight success stories, most authors will be rejected MANY times (I have been hundreds of times) and they will have waited months for this lovely rejection news!

Hone your craft. An author is never done learning.  In the age of the internet, resources abound. There are blogs, online workshops, and online critique groups.  Join groups like the Author’s Guild or Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and you’ll find abundant information and links to MORE information. A critique group, or at least readers other than family and friends, is a must.  Like the game of telephone, what you see in your head does not always make it to the paper and into your reader’s mind.

Organize your time. Most authors have other jobs and obligations.  When I have time to devote to my writing, I have to decide how to utilize my time – do I work on a new story, revise an old one, research places to send a story, catch up on industry news, read reviews of books, read books in the genre I write, do a writing workshop, read a book about the craft of writing, market the books I have published, etc.! AND, don’t forget what may be the most important:  quiet thinking time, letting the ideas come and grow in your mind!

Read, read, read! If you want to be a published author you need to read. Reading books in the genre you write will help you understand what goes into a book that makes it from manuscript to library shelf. Reading any genre exposes you to words, language and the art of storytelling. And reading does one more thing-it supports other authors, which is what you are or hope to be!

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