Author Spotlight: Alva Sachs


Alva Sachs says her days in the classroom were the real beginnings for becoming the children’s author she is today. She uses her teaching experience of 16 years and her love of writing for kids to create stories that engage, empower, and excite young readers.
 

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Where did you grow up? 
I hail from the windy city of Chicago, Illinois, but moved around a few times to various parts of the city. I miss my favorite Chicago food that I get as soon as I visit.

Did you read a lot as a child? 
Well, at that time I was really into Archie Comics. I couldn’t decide whom I liked better, so I chose Veronica. 

What were some of your favorite authors and books?  
John Grisham, Nora Ephron, Sophie Kinsella, Mitch Albom, Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Lawyer comes to mind. I had to write a couplet for eighth-grade graduation, and I remember to this day: “A Perry Mason, I would like to be, to defend my client’s liberty!” Pretty classy … don’t you think?

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
Golly gee, how much room do I have? Of course, almost all girls my age babysat for sure. For the price of .50 an hour, (actually started a manuscript about this) the going rate, and then I graduated to a mother’s helper of twins, which I loved and made $12 for the week and gave the money to my mom for groceries. In high school, at 15 I got a great job working for a small department store in the credit department. This was way before computers, and everything was done by hand or phone. After a short time, I was promoted to assistant to the women’s buyer and also got jobs for my girlfriends in high school, and we had so much fun being together. In college, at the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana Illinois, I worked at Carson Pirie Scott and Company department store, then over the summers back in Chicago I was sent on location for temporary placements. Had to work for the summers, as my parents were divorced. My best job ever was working at a music/bar/restaurant with live bands in my junior and senior years of college. It was fun to serve the students, dance, and yes, clean the place up at 1 a.m.! Needless to say, all of these experiences were an amazing benefit to me as I grew into who I was. Too long, right? Well, I am a writer!

How did you get started writing?  
My school district where I taught was instituting a writing seminar for any teachers interested from K-12. I jumped at the chance! It sounded so wonderful and I hoped it would help me with my students. Well, it was AMAZING! I also mentored staff in my school, incorporated it into our school day with my kids, and we all had to write in the seminar as well. Like my students, initially I stared at the blank page. Somehow out of that came Circus Fever. My first story was written and sat in a folder until 10 years ago. 

Why do you write books? 
Good question. It is certainly not for the money. Reading to my 4th and 5th graders every day. It was a very special part of our day together. Teaching and the wonderful experiences I had with my kids, I guess from being in the classroom, and how they would inspire me with their writing left an imprint on my heart. It was incredible to see their growth in writing once we began our writing process in the classroom. Their excitement turned into their own “published” books with book covers, illustrations, and the whole enchilada. What an inspiration. But I didn’t start writing again until my own children were in college.

What do you like best about writing? 
Writing takes me to a place in time where I feel like a kid again. Thinking, experiencing, and seeing the world through those eyes. It connects me to moments I had with my own children and their friends that were so special, you didn’t want them to end. 

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
Once I start the story, I am pretty good to go, but then I want to be sure to develop it in a way where the content, characters, and storyline does arc while maintaining the integrity of where I want the reader to go and experience. Keeping in mind, these readers are various ages. They get bored easily and they come with a wealth of experience these days. You want it to be a page-turner, a story they can connect to, and feel part of it all by the end. Pretty challenging, huh?

What makes a good story? 
That is hard to define. So many ways to do a good story, and of course, I feel all my stories are good, but it is good in my humble opinion. Let’s say if a child reads the story at 5, revisits it at 7 or 10 and still feels connected, relates to it on a new level, and can relate to it again and again. I think that is what keeps those incredible classics around by those authors who had that recipe back in the day.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
Life all around me. My children, who are very close in age and how they played with each other, their interaction, their pure sense of imagination, their friends, their honesty, their sensitivity and love. My family inspires me every day. 

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Tell us about your latest book. 
Dancing Dreidels. My desire to write a Judaic book from growing up Jewish. My illustrator, Patricia Krebs is Jewish as well and from Argentina. It was special for both of us, but I wanted to write a fun story that all children could relate to. It’s about four dreidels who are best friends, and they all spin or dance better than all of the other dreidels in the house. That is, except for Sheila. The story goes on in a very subtle way to illustrate for children that there are times in our lives when we are growing up and we may face difficult situations. We have to look inside ourselves and sometimes with the help of our family and friends, we can succeed. 

What’s next for you?
Aye, matey, don’t ya think it’s time for the best pirate story, ever? Been writing this one for several years, as I usually dream my stories before I write them down. So, this adventure has been literally driving me crazy. I see it so vividly in my mind with the illustrations because Patricia and I have worked so long together. This story also lives in my memory from a time when my three children were young. 

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books? 
The one thing my illustrator and I really work on together is creating movement, rhythm, and connection to each page in the story. Keeping the reader actively engaged as well as the person reading to them. It’s like a symphony that cannot be separated; every part is integral to the entire story. It makes a whole child experience, and increases their love to read, to be read to, and understand that reading is key to succeeding in life, regardless of the path you choose. 

For more information about Alva Sachs and her books, visit www.alvasachs.com.

Author Spotlight: Mark Stevens

Bestselling author Mark Stevens loves to tell stories. Ever since his Golden Retriever "Sky" was a puppy, Mark would put him to bed every night by reading a story to him. Now he has written a very special book about his very special dog to bring smiles to little readers all over the world.

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Where did you grow up? 
On the streets of New York. And literally on the mean, lower middle-class streets. 
 
Did you read a lot as a child? 
Voraciously for an interesting reason. Somehow, I was attracted to the famous men of the Old West – Kit Carson, Daniel Boone, General Custer – and read all of their biographies. It was as if I was transporting myself to a time and place I never lived in but somehow knew. 
 
What were some of your favorite authors and books? 
The book that had the biggest impact on my life to this day, is Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast. He was right. “If you are lucky enough to live in Paris as a young man, it will stay with you the rest of your life because Paris is truly a moveable feast.”
 
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I came from a broken family, wildly dysfunctional, violent, and nearly psychotic, and the last thing I had was the ability to plan what I wanted to do with my life. Except to survive. 
 
Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
On the surface, every job you could have – porter in a children’s hospital, bus boy, magazine subscription sales in the inner city – but paradoxically, they proved to be the greatest training ground and the most rewarding experiences a person who goes to prep school at Harvard could only dream of. 
 
How did you get started writing? 
I was always a storyteller. And the stories turned somehow to plays. And I became the Neil Simon of my elementary school, writing the now world-acclaimed “The Case of Safety Sam and the Rocking Chair.” I was a playwright first and then I took on the school newspaper. But my proudest coup was getting published in Poetry Magazine: The Lobby of the St. Agnes Hotel. 
 
Why do you write books? 
To continue the storytelling tradition and equally important, to educate myself. 
 
What do you like best about writing? 
The experience of discovery. What I mean by that is I don’t write with a plan or an outline and I am always amazed at what materializes before my eyes. This is particularly true for my first novel Evidence of Love. Each time I sat down to write (which I only do on my iPhone), I didn’t think I was creating characters’ tales, I believed I was joining them in action. Like they had lives of their own. And of course, my beloved dog Sky is the son who stayed home, who hikes with me every morning, who gives his life to my happiness, who I thank God for every day. So who wouldn’t want to write about such a beautiful creature who has magical powers? 
 
What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
Nothing. 
 
What do you think makes a good story? 
One that opens your eyes and your mind to something that you never knew, absorbed, experienced, or understood before. 
 
Where do you get your inspiration? 
The eternally mystifying, gorgeous, perplexing and exhilarating interaction between men and women. 
 
Tell us about your latest book.
I hike every single morning with my Golden Retriever, Sky, in rain, sleet, snow and sun. And I talk to him as if he’s a wonderful human being. Which, in part, I think he is. One morning on one of our hikes, a woman approached us, embraced Sky and said almost as if to the heavens, “You don’t have a mean bone in your body.” That day, I wrote a story about my boy, printed it and forgot about it. About a year later, my wife Carol found what I had written, as Sky’s loving mother, recognized it for the book it could be, arranged a photo shoot for Sky, and the rest is history. 

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Sky’s Amazing Dream is the story about a real Golden Retriever named Sky. He has a phantasmagorical dream: he can turn rocks into gold, he takes poor and sick children to happy times in a hot air balloon and he makes amusement parks appear. Sky goes to Hollywood to make movies, but only if they are free for children, including the popcorn! Word travels fast and the president of the United States visits Sky and names him “King Sky!” But Sky starts to get homesick for the big white house and his mommy and daddy so the president gives him a ride home on Air Force One. 
 
What’s next for you? 
I don’t plan. 
 
Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books? 
How I’ve managed to stay so devastatingly handsome. I wrote 25 books which have been translated into many languages around the world including the bestseller, Your Marketing Sucks, I am also the sole biographer of Carl Icahn, King Icahn: The Biography of a Renegade Capitalist and I also became a successful entrepreneur who built and sold a successful marketing firm.

For more information about Mark Stevens and his books, visit www.skysamazingdream.com

Author Spotlight: Susan Count

Susan Count writes at an antique secretary desk which belonged to the same grandmother who introduced her to horse books as a child. Today, she shares her love of horses through the pages of her award-winning Dream Horse Adventures series. 

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Where did you grow up? 
I’m proud to say I am the daughter of a career Army officer. We moved every nine months except for one assignment in Hawaii. Transferring schools in the middle of terms meant being constantly disoriented and translated to only having superficial friendships of convenience. But the lifestyle galvanized me with tremendous strength and confidence to take on unknown challenges. I think the experience gives depth to my stories.

Did you read a lot as a child? 
My father was twice deployed to a war zone and left us with my mother’s parents in Falls Village, Connecticut. His mother, Charlotte Dann Count worked as a librarian in the same town. She recognized in me a love for horses and supplied me with the classic horse books. It wasn’t that I loved to read as much as I wanted to experience a life with a horse and the only way that could happen was in a book. 

What were some of your favorite authors and books? 
Anything horse. Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, Misty. And Saturday morning television fed my equine addiction with Fury, Flicka, The Lone Ranger, and Roy Rogers. Back in the day, all heroes rode horses.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I knew at an early age that my gifting was in composition. While I had a natural aptitude for vocabulary, punctuation skills evaded mastery. I used what literary skills I had in my everyday life, but had no career aspirations. When my children were born, I was completely, exclusively devoted to their well-being and education.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
My first job was at a finance company where I learned that it is imperative to be responsible with credit. I loved being a secretary and organizing a work environment. Later, I earned an Associates Degree in applied science and worked as an x-ray technician. I never felt that it suited me and didn’t return to work after I was blessed with children. 

How did you get started writing? 
I’m always surprised to hear myself say, “I’m an author,” because I wrote a book by accident. In fact, if anyone had told me to write a book, I would have scoffed at the notion. Now there are three novels in the Dream Horse Adventures series. I started writing in a season of grief. Some days I wrote 100 words and others 800. The pain of my loss lifted and was replaced with sweet joy. I realized I was finally doing what I was born to do. I loved writing and I loved the story that seemed to magically flower on the page. It took me only three months to write my first book – Selah’s Sweet Dream. Then it took nearly two years to take it chapter by chapter to a critique group to shape it into an award-winning novel.

Why do you write books? 
I write because God has blessed me with gifts and abilities that He expects me to use for His glory. In the process, He gives me a great joy, a sense of a job well done, and a certainty that I have pleased my heavenly Father.

 The real Selah and her painted dream.

The real Selah and her painted dream.

What do you like best about writing? 
Three things: First, my heart is completely blessed to get to read my stories to my grandchildren. Second, it’s a sweet satisfaction when a child runs to my book table and expresses delight in discovering a new horse book. Third, I’m greatly humbled and appreciative when readers take the time to leave a review on Amazon to tell me how much they loved the book. All these things give me great joy and bring a smile that cannot be suppressed. They encourage me to write on.

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
Meeting the expectations of people and conforming to the rules of publication. I was told by traditional publishing houses the market for horse books was saturated. 

What makes a good story? 
Experiencing the struggles of life through a character and seeing how the struggles change them. The relationship between Selah, her horse, and her grandfather is special, tender, and endearing. It is my calling to write wholesome books that take readers on a wild ride.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
The beauty of old age is the wealth of life experiences that enable me to layer nuance into a story so that it connects with readers of all ages. My grandchildren and my equine treasures keep the stories real. Horses have a strangle hold on my heart. I’m not sure if I was born with a love of horses or if I fell in love at first sight. I can’t imagine my life without my pasture ornaments and I hope to be able to ride them on the forest trails all the days of my life.

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Tell me about your latest book. 
My new release is Selah’s Painted Dream. It was a great delight to write and I’m excited to share it with you. I stalked the artist, who lives in Moscow, to obtain the rights to the cover. Thirteen-year-old Selah’s life is about as perfect as it gets. She has horse friends at school, and on weekends, she rides her black mare on Grandpa’s farm. Training the horse to do upper-level liberty work is what makes her heart beat. But one word can ruin a perfect life—moving. A move would separate her from her horse, so she plots to get her name on the farm mailbox instead. She’s sure she could persuade Grandpa—except he’s overly distracted by a sheep-loving neighbor. Determined not to let Grandpa's new sweetheart take her place in his heart, Selah puts her hope in a painted dream horse from Grandpa’s past. When she snugs up the girth and buckles on her spurs, Selah rides to win.

What’s next for you? 
While I have another horse adventure book in the back of my mind, it has not made it to paper yet. My grandboys are clamoring for stories about them and have given me some hilarious moments to paint into their adventure story. The Firefly Warriors is in the process of being submitted to traditional publishing. Saddle up and ride along! 


For more information about Susan Count and her books, visit www.susancount.com.
 

Author Spotlight: Shanalee Sharboneau

When Shanalee Sharboneau's son was born, he had severe reflux. She spent countless hours of the day and night rocking him and humming nursery tunes to calm him. None of them worked, until she began to hum a melody which later became an illustrated book series about the everlasting love between a parent and child.

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Where did you grow up? 
My childhood was spent in Texas, out in the country of Round Rock.

Did you read a lot as a child?
Of course I did read, yet not as much as the child you saw on the playground with a book in their hand. It was imagining mythical creatures and lands that I loved doing the most as a child. Books added to my ability to create and invent.    

What did you want to be when you grew up?
An archaeologist, studying Egyptian ruins and dinosaur bones. You will see these influences in my books.  

What are some of your favorite books/authors?
Anything SciFi. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo 

Tell me about some of the jobs you had before you became a writer. 
Surprisingly, it was never my intention of becoming a writer. I obtained a degree in Mathematics/Statistics from the University of Houston and went into the medical device field. I made it all the way to vice president of Physician Sales and Services.

How did you get started writing? 
My son, Braydon, was very sick with severe reflux when he was born. My husband and I almost lost him twice. In my desperation to keep Braydon calm and alive, I started singing to him. What was created was a song that expressed all of the things I would do with him if he promised to fight his reflux and live. The words in my picture books are the actual song I sang to him in my darkest hours.    

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Why do you write books? 
When the first book came out, My Mama Loves Me: I'm Her Little Boy, I never would have foreseen the impact of the book. Many moms receiving the book for the first time would start to tear when they would get to page 3 or 4.  It was such a surprise to me and still touches my heart when I see this happen.  

What do you like best about writing? 
When moms and dads write to me explaining their child will not put down the book for months. I had one mom ask me to "not take this the wrong way," but she hides the book from her daughter on a nightly basis. Somehow, the daughter finds the book and asks her mom to read it to her one more time. It just doesn't get any better than that.  

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
In the books, for me it was critical to capture the relationship between a parent and child. For example, in the first book, My Mama Loves Me: I'm Her Little Boy, since it was about my son and I, working with the illustrator Israel Dilean to capture the beauty in our relationship was fun. When I was asked to do the second book, My Mama Loves Me: I'm Her Little Girl, it was a challenge because I did not have a daughter. For this, I asked friends who had daughters and referred to my own mother multiple times. When I went onto the Dad books, this was one interview after another starting with my father. And studying fathers and their daughters or sons out in public.  

What makes a good story? 
Krakens, Loch Ness monsters, exotic animals and mythical fairies ... of course! Truly, what makes a good story is one that touches people, whether it be by words or pictures.  

Where do you get your inspiration?
In the beautiful relationships between a parent and a child. It's amazing to watch and this is where I capture moments for my next books. Many parents and grandparents never know why I'm staring at them when at the coffee shop, or restaurant, or in church.  

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Tell me about your latest book. 
Coming out on Father's Day this year, is My Daddy Loves Me: I'm His Little Boy. It was really enjoyable producing this book. It is made of the journeys that my husband, Perry, and our son, Braydon would like to take in the future. They both had strong influences over the book.  

What’s next for you? 
My illustrator and I are working on the Grandparents series. When working on the scenes, I do start laughing at times. Grandparents are an influential part of a child's life. I have so many great memories of my own grandparents, and my son is just as attached to his grandparents. We call his grandma the love of his life and his grandpa his partner in crime. I believe most grandmas are the inspiration of our lives and grandpas are best to get in trouble with when your parents aren't looking. Hopefully these great relationships show themselves in the next books.   
  
Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books? 
Life is such an adventure, made to be lived. Learning about the world and other cultures is the definition of true happiness and awareness. My wish would be that this is felt by every child and parent reading my books, and inspires them to go see what is outside their front door.  

For more information about Shanalee Sharboneau and her books, visit myfamilylovesme.org.
 

Author Spotlight: Tara McCarton

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Today's author spotlight is Tara McCarton, who has written a heartwarming book about kindness and inclusion, inspired by her daughter's Christmas wish that one day, her sister would be able to speak to her.

Where did you grow up?
Brooklyn, NY

Did you read a lot as a child?
I did, and even today, once I get into a book, I could stay up all night reading it.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?
When I was younger, I loved all the Nancy Drew mystery books and now my favorite author is Nelson DeMille, and Plum Island is my favorite book.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was good in math, so I went into finance, but everyone always told me I should write a book. Sometimes things in your life take you down a different path and you do what you were meant to do and find a different passion.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
I was a lifeguard in high school and college then went into finance and worked at some of the biggest investment banks in the world. I also became an ongoing service coordinator for the Early Intervention program here in NY.

How did you get started writing?
I was inspired by my 3-year-old’s Christmas wish for her nonverbal sister to talk. I thought it was the sweetest wish and inspired me to write a book about having a disability but from a child's point of view in a lighthearted way.

Why do you write books?
I want to inspire children to be kind and include others that may be different than they are, and to know you can do anything you put your mind to, just like the illustrator of my book, who has autism.

What do you like best about writing?
Sending a positive message into the world and seeing the reactions of the kids when they read my book. It sparks a conversation that they may not have started before.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
Finding the time to organize all my ideas in my head and getting them out on paper.

What makes a good story?
A good story is something that inspires you and teaches a message.

Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration for this book is from my daughters. Having a daughter with special needs teaches you to slow down and appreciate all the little things around you. When I watch my daughters interact, and seeing how typical kids act around Audrey inspired me to teach the world about finding the “ability” in disability.

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Tell us about your latest book.
My book, The Wish, is a sweet story about two fairies—one who speaks and one who doesn't. The younger fairy's wish is for her friend to talk. It teaches love and kindness and to slow down and appreciate the differences in all of us.

What’s next for you?
I hope to write a second book. I already have some suggestions from my nephews and classes I have spoken to. I would love for this book to be in schools around the world and read to children at night.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about you and your books?
Yes, my illustrator has Autism. She is from the church we go to and when I attended her birthday party, I saw pictures of fairies on her wall. I asked her if she drew them and she did. I thought they reflected the ideas in my head perfectly of what the fairies would look like in my book. I wanted to give her a chance, too and show that even if you have a disability, you can do anything you set your mind to. When I read in schools, the children are fascinated that the pictures look like they are drawn with markers and they said they knew they could make a book, too! It is so great to see these kids drawing pictures and making books in the classroom. That is what inspires me as well!

For more information on Tara McCarton and her book, visit www.audreymccarton.com.