Raising Me (To Become a Good Dad)

by Paul Alan Ruben

As a child, I didn’t want to be like my father. I wanted to be him. As a son, I idealized and idolized him. His interests, beliefs, and feelings about the world defined my father. And me.

Evidently, I wasn’t alone. In his book, Under Saturn’s Shadow: the wounding and healing of men, noted Jungian psychologist, James Hollis, PhD, writes, “Every man carries a deep longing for his father.” Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, J.M. Coetzee, observes in his novel, Slow Man, “Those into whose lives you are born do not pass away.” These sentiments reflect my experience as a son. I’ve not met a man in my life who doesn’t feel similarly.

Unfortunately, my father wasn’t the ideal role model, to say the least. Growing up, I discovered early on that my father did not seem interested in me. I do not recall, for example, being praised, spending alone-time with him, doing whatever fathers and sons do that enhances their bond. Shocking as it may seem, I do not recall being told, “I love you,” ever. And his fiery temper left me as unsure of myself as I was of him.

Fast-forward to my becoming a father. The moment I looked down at my newborn son after my wife handed him to me, I vowed that I would be the parent and father I never had. For the first 12 years, if I do say so myself, parenting was a snap. I was an emotionally available dad, raising an effusive, loving, bright child. Hugs, kisses, praise, and “I love you” were my parenting staples. And when discipline was required, my actions and words informed my son that the object of my dismay was his behavior, not him. What I hid, however, was my lingering fear that eventually he would discover the truth—that I was not a good father, and that he would no longer love me. 

At 13 years old, my son’s attitude took a turn that was as stunning as it was inconceivable: this wonderful dad’s wonderful little boy I thought I knew, had transformed into an adolescent whose middling grades no longer matched his super intellect, verified by every standardized test and his previous teachers’ report cards. But what most rattled me was my teenager’s dismissiveness, and his willful expressions of independence. He may not have meant it personally, but quite frankly, I took it that way. I regarded these behaviors as a rejection of me, as a referendum on just how ineffectual a father I was. Finally, the truth. I was a fraudulent dad! I did not deserve his love! 

For the next few years, I found myself, more often than I care to recall, angrily responding to his adolescent sass the way that I had responded to my father’s rage: I withdrew emotionally, cloaking myself in silence, as if he didn’t exist. I shut down emotionally, vanished, and when he asked me if I was angry, I declared softly, flatly, “Me? No, why?” I could see that he was confused and hurt, but I was also hurt—too hurt to speak to him, too hurt and afraid to confront his various misbehaviors for fear he would withdraw his love for me. In short, I felt more like a wounded combatant than a dad.

Throughout my son’s adolescence and well into his twenties—especially when he lived at home with my wife and me while in graduate school—I often wondered, will my angry silences alienate my son, just as my father’s overt rage had alienated me? I feared this inner dialogue that replayed itself whenever any interaction created emotional dissonance between us—Why would he love me? I don’t—would create the outcome I most feared: father and son as intimate enemies. 

I had to do something. I sought and benefited from various insights—garnered from reading about parenting, periodic counseling, and relentless introspection about what being a dad actually meant. Over time, I discovered that I could hoist myself up from my excuses-mat (it’s all my tough childhood’s fault) and become an adult dad and grown-up human being that both my son and I could be proud of.

Over the past decades, raising me has been a challenging process. That said, I have discovered various raising-me pillars that continue to validate my journey to becoming that father I aspired to when my son was born. 

Be responsible for your behavior! The responsibility for how you treat your son isn’t your father’s, your difficult childhood’s, or your troubles at work. The responsibility for how a father treats his son is 100 percent the father’s, 0 percent the son’s, period. This parenting-responsibility principle is a process that commits you to acting as an adult dad and grown-up human being, and to taking responsibility for your parenting beliefs and behaviors, when they work and when they don’t.

Your feelings are your feelings, not the truth. Fathers are humans and all feel, at times, uncertain, inadequate, frightened, angry, even unloved. While these feelings are valid, because they emerge from within, they are feelings only! They do not reflect who you are: a good dad, a loving dad, who has always wanted the best for his son.

Be proud of YOU. Not because you are perfect or have all the answers. Rather, because you count. To yourself and your son. Think of it this way, how can a son be proud of his father, if a father is not proud of himself?

Reflect, Aspire, Actualize: It is unrealistic to imagine responsible parenting as a bar that, once grasped, means, Woo-hoo, I did it! Becoming a responsible dad and parent is a lifelong, three-pronged process: Reflection, Aspiration, Actualization. Consider your behavior, and in so doing, continue to refine the kind of dad you aspire to become. Then, difficult as it sometimes may be, make every effort to be that dad and human being.

See your son as his own person. In his seminal work, The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran speaks of our children: “They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” Your son is deserving of and entitled to a father who sees and values him for who he is. This means reinforcing your son’s sense of self-respect, self-possession, and self-love.

Let your son know that he matters. When in your presence, your actions and words must first and foremost tell your son: I see you. I hear you. I acknowledge you. I encourage you. I can disagree with you, critique you, punish you, while always respecting you. You are emotionally safe with me. I love you without condition.

In his book, Living an Examined Life, Dr. Hollis writes that successful parenting is located “…in the child who understands that he or she is seen and valued for who they are … It sounds so simple, yet proves so rare.” Today, my greatest raising-me challenge remains becoming the adult dad and grown-up human being I aspire to be. Rome isn’t built in a day. Nor a lifetime. I am, however, proudly building Rome.

Paul Alan Ruben is a two-time Grammy winning audiobook producer and author of the short story collection, Terms of Engagement: stories of the father and son. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.



Author Spotlight: Nicole M. Stevenson


Nicole M. Stevenson is the author of Diamond's Kindergarten Madness, a story about a very anxious little girl who is about to start her first day of school!

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Where did you grow up? 
In Queens, NY. “Queens is Where Creativity is Born.” A mixture of cultures that got along.

Did you read a lot as a child?
Yes, I read. I didn’t read every day. When I did, I really would get into the story. Books would provide an essential escape for me, whether it was to get away from my brother or because there was reruns of my favorite shows. My mother was an avid reader.

What were some of your favorite books/authors?
Where the Wild Things Are. When I was teen, Nancy Drew. I enjoyed reading comics, especially Archie.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
Believe it or not, I wanted to be a pediatrician. Later on when I entered college, I realized that biology and chemistry were a lot harder than I thought.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
Babysitting my godbrother was one of my first jobs. I worked for PAL summer youth—a whole bunch of children that were full of energy. I was an Usher at a theater in Queens, where I met Cool & the Gang, as well as a country singer. It was great experience getting paid to show folks to their seats and seeing free shows.

How did you get started writing?
Poetry was my introduction. In school I learned about poetry and fell in love with it. It is the words in the card you love, the lyrics to your favorite song.

What do you like best about writing? 
When I write and people enjoy what I’ve written, and I can evoke different emotion from the reader.

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
The biggest challenge I’ve had to face is when I’m on a writing streak and then there is a dry season. The point when it seems your writing is at a standstill and you are awaiting the downpour.

What do you think makes a good story? 
A story that can hold up to its genre in which it’s written and leave the reader wanting to read more. A story that makes readers ask if there is going to be a sequel or series.

Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration can come from anywhere. Diamond’s Kindergarten Madness started with my eldest girl, the main character is named after her. This is not her story, just something that I made up.

What is your favorite reading/writing snack?
My favorite snack are Oreos and ice cream. They make me happy.

Do you have any quirky writing habits?
I will write on anything from a napkin to toilet paper.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Write, write, read, rewrite and repeat.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?
Well, I would have said Where the Wild Things Are, but after careful thought it would be inside Diamond’s Kindergarten Madness. In her world, she lets her mind get the best of her and she envisions some of the silliest things that occur. It makes me laugh and I feel like a kid again.

Tell us about your latest book/project.
My latest project is about a prominent black figure. This time I’m going back to my roots—poetry, of course.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I’ve written four books thus far and aside from children manuscripts, I’m working on adult manuscripts as well. “I also host “On the Wall” live chat interviews on Facebook, I am the founder of Profile magazine fashion and entertainment, and I draw, paint, and write songs.

For more information about Nicole M. Stevenson, visit her on Facebook.

Time to Shine


by Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz                    

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During the next several months, high school students across the country will perform in their annual musicals. Auditions play a major role in high school musical productions, but they can be scary and intimidating. Students, here are some tips to help you survive your upcoming auditions, and yes, even have some fun.

The musical is announced. The audition dates are set. For months, you’ve been singing show tunes with your peeps. You secretly wonder what it would be like walking across that stage with the spotlight on you. Congratulations, the theater bug has bitten you. This is it. This is the year! You’re going to take part in your high school musical. Go for it!

I can’t tell you it will be easy. I can’t tell you that you won’t have to put a ton of work or hours into the production. I can tell you that you will be in for one of the best, and most fun rides ever, guaranteed. If you’re a theater newbie, there are a few tips that can make your first high school musical experience a little easier, and a lot less scary. Because after all, theater and performing is fun, but admittedly … sometimes a little scary.

I’ve learned, talking to students over the years, that the audition process is probably the scariest. But there is a way to get through that too, and make it fun. Yes, I did say fun.

Once the show‘s decided and audition dates set, your director will post a list of songs from the musical that you will be asked to perform at auditions—one for male leads and one for female leads. They will also provide a handout with a short dialogue from the musical, as well. This is to judge your acting ability.

Get the handouts as soon as possible when you sign up for auditions, and immediately get familiar with the music and the show. Let’s say, for instance, that your show is The Sound of Music. Watch the movie, or better yet, check the numerous high school productions posted on YouTube. Also, familiarize yourself with the show’s score.

Listen to the soundtrack. Always make sure it is the stage version, not the film. Film versions of musicals tend to be a little different, with different songs. Especially, get comfortable with the audition song or songs.

Occasionally, a director will have you sing a given selection from the show with no advanced warning what the song is. For instance, if your show is Mary Poppins, he may have everyone sing a few bars of “Chim Chim Cheree.” That’s why it’s important to know the show’s score, so you’ll be familiar with the songs.

I've worked in the sport of figure skating for over 20 years. One thing that always amazed me about our skaters is how they can easily skate a program on National, International, or Olympic ice and manage to pull it off ... most of the time. Nerves are there, but the skaters who have the best success are the ones who know their programs backwards, forwards, and upside down. Many will say they can pretty much see their performance from beginning to end, or can even "walk" through it off ice. So when they hit the ice, the muscle memory kicks in and they can skate a decent program.

The same is true for high school musical auditions. The better prepared you are, the more you know your song, your dialogue, and anything and everything you can about your upcoming musical and soundtrack, the better off you will be, and the better you will be to handle the nerves.

When you sign up for auditions, the director may ask you what part of parts you would like to audition. If you are a newbie, here is my first piece of advice: You can mention a particular role if you have one in mind, but also note that you would be open to playing other roles. I mention this because a lot of high school students limit themselves and think, if I don’t get that part I don’t want to be in it. Nothing is further from the truth and if you really want to enjoy and embrace your high school musical experience, you will take and embrace any role given to you, including ensemble. But for now, it’s ok to dream big and shoot for a lead or supporting lead.

Practice, practice, and practice that song leading up to auditions. If you study voice, have your teacher work with you on your number. If you are working through this on your own, you may want to have someone accompany you on the piano, as it gets closer to auditions day. A friend who plays, someone in your music department at school or local college students are often willing to work with you. I mention this because you will probably be singing with piano accompaniment at the audition.

You can also search online for musical theater piano accompaniments, used for audition purposes. YouTube is a good place to start. Some directors may have you sing a cappella (no accompaniment). Word to the wise, make sure you know the accompaniment the director will use so you will be as prepared as you possibly can.

For dialogue, you may or may not have to memorize your piece, but again, this is worth clarifying, too. I know of a couple directors who require memorization (this clues them in on to how well you would be able to handle pages of dialogue for the final show). Want to stand out in your audition? Memorize the scene. It shows you really want a role in this musical.

Study the character that you would like to play. Here again is where a movie or watching a stage production comes in handy. No doubt, you’re familiar with the musical, but if you’re not, you’ll want to learn a little more about it and the possible characters that speak to you.

Again, using The Sound of Music as an example, if you’re auditioning for Maria you want to understand her from beginning to end, a shy, postulant who had a zest for life at the beginning to a strong woman who put her family first at the very end. Understanding your character will help you deliver your best audition ever and it will show your director that this role is you, and that you can act.

Another acting tip, make sure to have someone listen to your dialogue and make sure you speak clearly and enunciate. No mumbling and please, please, no looking down. It’s a nerves thing but it will look awful, and when you are looking down and talking it’s hard to hear you.

Weeks before auditions, start taking care of yourself. Rest that voice. Do not get overtired or overdue the extracurricular activities. Eat well and go to bed early. You don’t need a cold, flu, or upper respiratory infection to trash your audition. Don’t chance it. The better you feel, the better you’ll perform. 

The big day is here…

Fast forward to audition day. You've been practicing for weeks. You know every monologue line, and everyone in your household including the family dog can sing your audition song. That's how many times you've been practicing. You are now ready to show your high school musical director what you've got. 

The day of auditions is usually after school or sometimes early on a school night. Make sure you’re on time and dress neatly and comfortably. Bring a pair of shoes or sneakers you can move in. Often, the choreographer is present and will put you through some small dance steps to see how well you move.

Don’t panic if you’re not the world’s best dancer. Again, directors take into account the entire package and you will learn dancing and moves along the way. Don’t believe me? I judged a high school production of 42nd Street a few years back and up until musical, none of these kids knew what a pair of character shoes looked like. They tap danced their hearts out and got a production number nomination.

When you arrive at auditions, fill out your paperwork and list all theater or performing experience. Even if it’s just piano or voice lessons, dance lessons, recitals or maybe you volunteered for a community theater production. Even if you’re a first timer, you can find things to list for theater experience.

You will also list the part or parts you’re auditioning. Your director may also ask what role or roles interest you. Go for the role you want, but be open. What may look like an obvious role to you may look differently to your director. They have been doing this a long time and may see something in you that thoroughly fits another character. Case in point, during my high school production of The Sound of Music, a friend wanted the part of Maria. She got the Mother Abbess. Why? She could hit an amazing high C. Think “Climb Every Mountain.” Always, always be open.

Act your heart out. Many of the dialogue snippets the director chooses are very emotional scenes. Take the scene and run with it. Also, I know this is hard, but look right at your director when you’re reciting. Again, many students memorize the dialogue so they can enhance their acting experience and impress the director that they can memorize lines.

Try not to be nervous. I know, easier said than done. If you are active in your high school music department through chorus or band, you probably already know your musical director or directors. It’s just Mr. Johnson. It’s just Mrs. Smith. A familiar face. During auditions you will come in, sing, and read for the director, music director, and choreographer.

Don’t get flustered when you see them sitting at a table, taking notes. Again, they are looking at you for several roles—not just the one you are reading for. Lots of writing doesn’t mean they hate you. I learned this during a community theater audition for Gypsy. I was in my mid 20s and looked 16. The director was writing tons of notes on my page. I thought for sure they hated me. When I finally saw my sheet, he wrote, “Wow, she could play any of the teen girls. Great face.” You never know.

I will also tell you that your director is glad to see you. They want you to do well. They want people involved in their shows each year and love when new people join the musical production because the high school musical career is a short one—four to six years if you begin in 7th grade. As seniors and last year’s leads graduate, there is always the need for new performers. So they will be rooting for you. You need to root for yourself.

My best audition advice? Know your director’s drill, the song or songs they want to hear, the dialogue and how they conduct auditions. The more prepared you are, the better. So, do your very best and show them what you’ve got.

 

Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz is a writer with U.S. Figure Skating and author of the Skating Forward book series, a collection of inspirational figure skating stories for young adults. She is also a current high school musical awards adjudicator and author of My First High School Musical: From Auditions to Opening Night and Everything in Between.

Photos of Oneida, NY students performing South Pacific and Madison, NY students performing State Fair
courtesy of Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz. 




A Letter to My Younger, Nervous Self


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Dear little Ben,

I heard that you’re taking a test in school this week and that you’re very worried about it. You’re worried that you’ll forget everything you memorized. You’re worried that you’ll end up with a bad grade. I also heard that you have to play in a piano recital and that you’re freaked out. You’re scared that you’ll play the wrong notes. You’re afraid that your parents and teacher will be disappointed and angry.

Everything’s so hard when you have to do something important and you get worried. Believe me, I know. I remember how I felt when I was your age. When I took a test my stomach hurt, and my head ached, and it was hard to come up with the right answers. And when I had to play the piano in front of an audience my hands shook and it was so hard to get my fingers on the right notes. I remember my piano teacher saying, “You play so beautifully, why are you so nervous?” I remember my parents telling me, “You’re smart, you shouldn’t worry. You’ll do fine on the test!” This made me very frustrated and angry. I felt like they just didn’t understand. And I know you feel that way, too. You’re suffering and no one understands you. You feel alone.

But I have news for you. You are not alone! Many kids your age feel these things. And no one’s really helping them, either. So here’s the really good news: I can show you how to feel calm when you take a test and you play the piano in a recital. You don’t have to be scared and nervous. You can feel calm and confident.

I can hear you asking, “How can I do that?” Well, right now you’re focusing on how nervous and scared you are. How about if you learned to focus on being calm instead? “Focus” means what you’re thinking about and where you’re putting your attention. In a basketball game, the players are focused on the net and getting the ball into it. Then they score points and win the game. Right now, when you take a test and play in a piano recital you are focused on how nervous and scared you are. Your attention is going to your tight stomach and your throbbing head. So of course you can’t “score.” Of course you feel like you are failing. Learning how to be calm is not hard. In fact, it’s easy. You just have to learn to focus on something else. Let me show you how.

Being calm takes two steps: 

Step 1: Breathing. Of course you’re breathing all the time, but there’s a special way to breathe that will help you calm down. To do this, first you place both hands on your belly. Next, when you breathe in, you feel your belly filling up with air. You don’t have to push your belly out. Just send the breath down to your belly and feel it gently expand. This is called deep breathing. Your body and brain enjoy this. They want to be calmed down.

Step 2: Grounding. This is also easy, and fun. To do it, put both feet flat on the floor. Now feel the floor under your feet. Next, feel the chair you’re sitting on against your legs and bottom and back. Once you’ve done that,  now feel the floor and chair supporting you. Feel them holding you up. And don’t forget to breathe!

When you breathe and ground, you are focusing on calming down, not on how nervous you are. In fact, breathing and grounding are the best ways to calm yourself down.

Let’s practice. Right now, close your eyes and imagine you are taking a test or playing in a recital. If you start to feel a little nervous, use the tools right away! Breathe and ground. Do it again. And do it one more time. You’ll feel better and better.

And remember ... just keep doing it. I did, and now, when I have to take a test or play the piano, I remember to breathe and ground, I don’t get all upset and scared. I stay calm. You can do it, too. I know.

Your bigger self,
Ben (but now people call me “Dr. B”!) 

Ben Bernstein, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and performance psychologist. Trained as a teacher in inner city schools in New York and London, he was a prominent figure in the progressive education movement in the early 70s, and has since gone on to teach at every level of the educational system.

Over the last 50 years he has coached thousands of clients, from high school students to business executives to Pulitzer Prize, Tony and Academy Award winners. He has received numerous awards and grants from the U.S. and Canadian governments, and has been a speaker at national and international conferences. He was the first director of improvisation at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute in Utah.


For more information, visit drbperformancecoach.com.

Author Spotlight: Becky Benishek


Becky Benishek loves to create stories that help children believe in themselves and find the magic in ordinary things ... and she likes Legos, Renaissance Faires, and the Commodore 64.

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Where did you grow up?

In a one-story house with a giant elm in the front yard, in a town surrounded by farmland and forests, between two cities. My mom still lives there. I love it.

Did you read a lot as a child?

Constantly. I can’t remember learning how to read. I remember my parents reading to me, and the house was full of books. I also remember reading to my kindergarten class and later, taking books out to the playground at recess to read on top of the jungle gym!

What were some of your favorite books/authors?

Miss Suzy by Miriam Young, illustrated by Arnold Lobel; A Hole is to Dig, by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak; Willow Wind Farm: Betsy’s Story, by Anne Pellowski; How Spider Saved Christmas, and other Spider books, by Robert Kraus; The Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Whenever things bothered me or I was going through something when I was younger, I would tell myself, “Laura had to do this and put up with that and it was a lot tougher,” and that helped me get through it. The 1939 set of Book of Knowledge encyclopedias because they were truly wonderful marvels designed for children. Each volume had poetry, things to make and do, stories, and answered questions in addition to providing rich history and contemporary knowledge.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A steam locomotive engineer. (I still do.) But I also always wanted to be a writer, which to me was synonymous with “author.” How little did I know!

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.

I’ve worked in a variety of IT and marketing jobs, including my present job. It’s wonderful, a real feel-good place where we train people who care for kids and adults with special needs and mental health issues. Very empathetic and caring all around. I manage an online community full of these customers, who seem like heroes to me and to all of our staff. Through my work with this company and this platform (Yammer), I’ve also received the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award since 2016, which lets me meet even more heroes.

How did you get started writing?

I’ve always written stories and poems; I still have most of the ones from way back, sheets stapled together and a cover done up in crayon or marker. I used to include “reviews” from The Horn Book and such, to make them seem authentic. Naturally, all were glowing! I’d submitted poems and such to various small-press publications through the years, but it was only in the last few years that I finally stopped thinking about getting my actual stories out there, and started doing it. My first two books are self-published (What’s At the End of Your Nose? and Dr. Guinea Pig George), and my third (and fourth-to-come) were picked up by MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing. In addition, I’ve been writing songs, with an eye toward collaborating with a local musician.

What do you like best about writing?

The way inspiration really does come like a thunderbolt, transfixing, illuminating. How you know you’d better drop everything and get that pen, tablet, or keyboard in hand or risk losing it all. Even at 3 a.m. Even when you’re brushing your teeth. How you feel yourself being a conduit for something that feels so wonderful and could, just possibly, be wonderful for someone else, too. And how, with the finished piece in front of your eyeballs, you don’t feel hollow or bereft because it’s out of you. Instead, you feel complete.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?

Sitting myself down and doing it. Allowing myself to sit down and do it. There’s always something else going on, and that something else can seem so much glossier and more vibrant than the mechanics of writing.  

What do you think makes a good story?

I like the expected done up in unexpected ways. A little quirkiness or surrealism, surprising elements, shots of humor; these draw me in. If it’s true that there are only seven plots in the world, then we’re already following a formula from the start. So what makes your story particularly you, that no one else could have written? That’s what I look for and enjoy.

Where do you get your inspiration?

In the course of a conversation, or a snippet of a thought or an overheard word, or looking at something that really resonates with me. Sometimes you’re aware of it when it develops and sometimes it comes like a thunderbolt.

What is your favorite reading/writing snack?

I’ve found it can be very motivating to write when hungry. I seem to get hungry every couple of hours, so that’s not too big of a stretch, but there are degrees. Otherwise, I love crispy, sweet and tart apples with or without creamy peanut butter, soft Camembert or smoked Gouda on rosemary crackers, hot chocolate with peppermint or vanilla, and chunky guacamole with just enough kick in it, with carrots to dip in or warmed tortilla chips. I’ve also gotten into loose-leaf tea and have quite a variety now. I think I’m still talking about eating while writing or reading, not just eating. Hmm! (Hungry now.)

Do you have any quirky writing habits?

This may not be quirky so much as elbows-out and snarly, but when I’m writing, do not disturb me lest a horror happen: My train of thought derailing. If I had a Jo March (“Is genius burning?”) garret, I’d retreat there, but I have established a corner of a room where my computer lives. I may also have occasionally commandeered the immediate area I’m in when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, for the sake of household peace, I just need to get the initial train of thought down and then everyone can talk to me again.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Don’t stop writing. Do find a good editor. And even if your dream is to be accepted by a publishing house, don’t hesitate to self-publish in the meantime. You’ll learn so much about the industry and meet so many amazing people.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?

Pern (Anne McCaffrey)! I always wanted to be a dragonrider.

Tell us about your latest book/project.

The Squeezor is Coming! (MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing) is my newest release. What’s a Squeezor? He’s a friendly monster who just wants to give hugs with his great, big, wrap-around-you-twice, squeezy arms, but he looks so scary, even other monsters run away! This makes the Squeezor very sad. How can he get them to look past his appearance? Then he gets an idea: It isn't about what he wants, but what the other monsters need. Originally, my story was much shorter. My marvelous editor, Quata, whom I found on Fiverr, thought that if I expanded on it, it could really make it into something big. I had to think about it, but saw that she was right, and I’m so happy I listened to her. When I received the contract from MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing, I was frozen in spot just staring at it for at least a minute! Then the hunt was on for an illustrator, and fortunately, I happened to work with one. Matt Fiss is a co-worker who does graphic design. I loved what I’d seen of his portfolio and some pieces he did for our company, and knew he’d be perfect to bring the Squeezor to life. To my delight, he agreed. Then, early in 2019, Hush, Mouse! (Maclaren-Cochrane Publishing) is coming out. Mouse is a tiny kitten who meows so much that she's always being told to hush. Little Liz is the only person in the house who appreciates Mouse, because she’s short for her age and is often overlooked and unheard. Together, the two prevent a crime and prove that even though they’re small, they're worth being listened to. For Mouse, I found a wonderful illustrator through Instagram, named Alicia Young. I loved how she drew both animals and children. I also decided to show diversity in Little Liz’s household. Growing up, most of the books I read had a boy as the main character. Even now, I have to consciously think not to default to “he” as a generic. This kind of thing really does have a long-term impact, and that’s why I wanted to help more kids see themselves in books. I’ve got more stories waiting for their turn to shine.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?

What I really hope to show in my books is a different way of looking at things that can also lead to compassion and empathy—for ourselves as well as for others. Everyone has unique differences, and we don’t always recognize that we’re all part of the same family. I also think it’s harder to find meaningful and nurturing things in the mass of not-so-great stuff that comes at us. We may not know what we’re missing, but we know it’s something. It’s no wonder we’re experiencing so much drifting and disconnection. We can feel alone, misunderstood, picked on. We can’t always communicate our needs, either. So I want to give someone or something a voice in our world that they don’t ordinarily have.

That’s why I’ve got a snail who decides to give his boring old town of Slipperyville one last chance, a guinea pig who thinks he’s a doctor, a big-hearted monster who learns how to look past his own needs, and a tiny kitten and little girl who believe they really can save the day—and do. Thank you so much for giving me a voice, too, in this wonderful interview.

 

For more information about Becky Benishek and her books, visit beckybenishek.com.

 

 

Author Spotlight: Carole P. Roman and J. Robin Albertson-Wren


Homework horrors, chores, and not-so-friendly friends … that’s enough to stress out any child. The secret to staying cool is easy: it’s called mindfulness―and authors Carole P. Roman and J. Robin Albertson-Wren have written a #1 bestseller that gives kids fun activities to practice it on their own.

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Where did you grow up?

Carol: I was born in Brooklyn, New York, but moved to Rosedale, Queens when I was three years old.

Robin: New England – in Concord Massachusetts, outside of Boston.

Did you read a lot as a child?

Carol: I read a lot as a child. I began reading Nancy Drew with my best friend when I was six. We used to go to Woolworths and buy different books in the series, then trade them when we were finished reading. I soon began reading books my mother left around the house and ended up discussing them with my mother and grandmother. I read anything that was on the Times Bestseller List, I suppose. She only bought popular fiction.

Robin: As much as possible. I used to love reading up in trees near our home.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?

Carol: I remember loving Exodus, by Leon Uris, The Godfather by Mario Puzo, but as I got older my genres would change. When I was in my late teens I read only espionage books, Ian Fleming being my favorite. That kicked off a British year when I read everything by Orwell. I gravitated to science fiction by the end of my teens and read a lot of Asimov, Blish, and other science-fiction authors.

Robin: I loved the Bill Peet books, especially The Wump World and The Little House on the Prairie series, especially when Laura Ingalls was especially rascally.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Carol: I wanted to be an actress, but knew that was unlikely. I put all my energies into being a teacher.

Robin: An architect – I loved building forts and tree houses when I was little.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.  

Carol: I worked in various retail stores that included jewelry, hardware, paint, clothing, and electronics. I babysat. I tutored other kids in my high school. I now run a global transportation company with my family.

Robin: I’ve been an elementary school teacher for over 25 years, and a mindfulness instructor for the past 5 years. When I was younger, I loved working as a camp counselor and lifeguard in the summer.

How did you get started writing?

Carol: My kids asked me to bring in a story for a family competition and then helped me publish it.

Robin: I had a marvelous teacher in 2nd grade who encouraged us to write books of poetry. That is when I first started. As an adult, I wrote my first manuscript when my daughter was an infant and I was a stay-at-home mom for 5 years.

Why do you write books?

Carol: When I completed my first book, I realized it wouldn’t sell without creating a brand. I then built my brand by trying different genres ranging from picture books, to fiction and nonfiction, as well as early reader chapter books and adult fiction under another pen name. Mindfulness for Kids is the first book I was actually asked to write.

Robin: I love sharing ideas and stories!

What do you like best about writing?

Carol: I love every aspect of writing, from creation to watching the reviews come in. It is emotionally satisfying and as exciting as having a new baby come home. I love it so much, I wrote a book on how to get published that ended up spawning three different blog radio shows and a magazine called Indie Author’s Monthly.

Robin: I love the freedom to get my thoughts and ideas created into the written word.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?

Carol: Making sure the books go out as mistake-free as possible. I do at least three edits, but pesky errors come up every now and then.

Robin: Finding the time to write, uninterrupted.

What do you think makes a good story?

Carol: Good stories are different for everyone. I think the most important element is making it universal enough that people can identify with the characters and feel what they are going through.

Robin: When people write about something they are passionate about, something that involves a variety of perspectives, emotions, and deep thought, it often makes for a good story.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Carol: I got the inspiration for The Treasure at Snake Island from a beautiful sunrise I witnessed on my way to the office. I wrote Oh Susannah based on a busy blogger’s response in a note. My kids and grandchildren always inspire me.

Robin: From my students (ages 3 to 21), and my own children.

Tell us about your latest book/project.

Carol: We collaborated to create Mindfulness for Kids. We had a wonderful time creating relatable situations for children to identify when they are having an issue, and then supplying them with tools to help themselves. I think it’s a wonderful book and I am thrilled with it.

Robin: It’s a collection of short stories, in which children experience a variety of emotions. Each story is followed by two mindfulness activities that could help in handling stress, managing anger, building resiliency…etc. I was thrilled to be the mindfulness expert on this project and work closely with Carol to create this engaging, fun, and useful book!

What’s next for you?

Carol: I think I want to try my hand at something YA.

Robin: I will continue to teach mindfulness techniques to people of all ages, and would love to create Mindfulness for Teens next!


For more information about Carol P. Roman and her books, visit caroleproman.com.

For more information about J. Robin Albertson-Wren or to join her online mindfulness course for elementary school students, visit mind-awake.com.

To learn more about Mindfulness for Kids or to purchase, visit Amazon.com.

Author Spotlight: Patricia M. McClure-Chessier


As an author, educator, healthcare professional, and speaker, Patricia M McClure-Chessier’s life reads like an individual who is very compassionate, caring, inspirational, tenacious, and industrious. Her passion for learning started when she use to play school with the children in the neighborhood, and her role was the teacher. Her love for writing developed through creative writing and poetry in grade school. She admits that writing is therapeutic and fulfilling for her. “I write because I want to preserve myself and leave my legacy in writing,” she says. Patricia’s first published book Losing a Hero to Alzheimer’s: The Story of Pearl was a first-place winner in the Aging/Senior Living and Relationships categories and an Honorable Mention winner in the Biography/Memoir category at the 2016 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards.

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Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the city of Chicago.

Did you read a lot as a child?
Yes! I loved to read as a child. Reading allowed me to expand my imagination. It also gave me a chance to escape from difficult situations going on around me.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?
My favorite books were the Box Car Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, Beezus & Ramona by Beverly Clearly and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a psychologist or a teacher.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became an author/writer?        
I have worked in the behavioral healthcare field for the past 25 years. After graduating with my Bachelors in Psychology from Eastern Illinois University, I worked in the capacity of a direct care provider, case manager, and director at a residential and vocational facility for people with intellectual disabilities and mental illness. As newlyweds, my husband Eric and I took care of my mother who had Alzheimer’s. Later I had children and went back to school to obtain my masters in business administration and masters in public administration, all while working as an Associate Clinical Director/Senior Leader at a behavioral healthcare outpatient organization. As time progressed, I made the transition to work as a Healthcare Executive Leader in Risk Management and Quality at a behavioral healthcare hospital. Throughout my career, I have written several articles for major newspapers and magazines. Additionally, I am an adjunct professor and teach college healthcare courses.

How did you get started writing?
As a small child I enjoyed writing, especially creative writing and poetry. One of my fondest memories was when I was 12 years old, I wrote a poem titled “He Say She Say” and entered it into a poetry contest for Ebony Jr. Magazine, and it got selected for publishing. My parents were so proud! Also, in grammar school and high school I was on the newspaper and yearbook committee.

Why do you write books?
Thus far, my books have been about my journey and experience caring for my mother who had Alzheimer’s. I want to persuade the readers to do the right thing, inform them based on my professional and personal experience all while entertaining them. I find sharing knowledge fulfilling because the information will be valuable to someone else. I believe we are all helpers to one another on this earth and I relish in doing my part! I want readers to understand how the disease affects the individual, caregiver, and family. I want them to be more equipped to handle the situation.  

What do you like best about writing?
Writing to me is magical! I can be free, transparent, and authentic. All of my writings thus far have been nonfiction. When I write, I start to relive the experience, and sometimes this can be good, but sometimes it can be depressing. Writing about my personal experiences is very therapeutic for me. If my past experience takes me to an emotional state, I know there is more healing that needs to take place. I write because I want to share my journey, love, experience, and highlight what God has brought me through.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
Finding the time to write is always my biggest challenge! I live a very busy life and I have to manage my time wisely.

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Where do you get your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from my parents. Both of my parents spent valuable time with me. I had a special relationship with the both my parents. Their strengths and weaknesses complimented each other as parents. I believe I got the best of both worlds. Although both my parents are deceased, I get inspired from the legacy they left. Both my parents were goal-oriented, motivated, committed, loyal, and hard-working. My parents believed that I could do anything and convinced me that I could. My husband, children, and friends are a great inspiration to me as well. I also get inspired by watching other successful people. I gravitate towards autobiographies because I am always curious about the story behind the success.  

Tell us about your latest book
In A Caregivers Guide for Alzheimer’s and Dementia: 9 Key Principles, I share how being a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia can be a stressful and a thankless job. The experienced caregiver will garner additional strategies to help prevent burnout and gain additional insight on how to handle challenging situations. The reader will learn to employ techniques with the person with Alzheimer’s/Dementia when they are noncompliant with active daily living skills or exhibiting unwelcoming behaviors. Additionally, it offers a unique perspective on how to be successful as a caregiver with a limited support system. Everybody can’t be a caregiver, but we can all participate in care giving! The 9 key principles will teach the reader how to survive this tumultuous journey and remain physically and mentally healthy.

What’s next for you?
I have been working on a screen play that I hope to have completed soon. I’m learning writing a screenplay from a book is more challenging than I realized. But I’m up for the challenge.

 

For more information on Patricia M. McClure-Chessier and her books, visit losingaherotoalzheimersthestoryofpearl.com.

 

November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month

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Author Spotlight: Zachary Astrowsky


At the age of 14, Zachary Astrowsky is a high school honors student, an actor, a literacy leader, a public speaker, and the award-winning author of the science fiction adventure, The Uncontrolled.

Where did you grow up?
I’m still growing up in Scottsdale, AZ.

Have you always loved to read?
Yes. My first book series was the Harry Potter series, which I flew through in first grade. Since then, I’ve read many Sci-Fi, dystopian books.

What are some of your favorite books/authors?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is my favorite book. I got the chance to meet him on Oct. 22nd and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I also like the I am Number 4 book series by Pittacus Lore, and the Maze Runner series by James Dashner.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I am a full-time high school student, and I am currently working as a teacher’s assistant in a 7th grade Sunday School class. I have also worked as an actor in two professional musical theatre shows, Carousel and A Christmas Story. Finally, from time to time, I am hired through my talent agent for acting jobs. Being paid to do what I love is amazing.

What are your career goals?
Someday I hope to be an astrophysicist and a writer.

How did you get started writing?  
I had a lot of cool ideas when I was younger so I started jotting them down. Later, I began joining those ideas which ended in the creation and completion of my novel.

What do you like best about writing?
Writing can be so emotional and meaningful; I like that it can change someone’s perspective on life which I find to be an amazing thing. Writing also encompasses so many genres, which is why I am always encouraging the students I speak to at school events to read more and to write more.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
The time it takes to edit is the most challenging part of writing. However, I have learned the importance of being flexible. For example, I had to change many paragraphs, and even plot lines, when writing my book but of course, it’s worth it in the end when the story is well written and it holds the reader’s attention.

What do you think makes a good story?
One that can keep a reader interested and turning each page of the book.

Where do you get your inspiration?
In the beginning, my friends and family provided me a lot of inspiration. Lately, it has been my readers and the kids I speak to at my speaking events that have been inspiring me to write more.

What is your favorite reading/writing snack?
Cheez-Its, Goldfish crackers, and pudding.

What writing advice do you have for young, aspiring authors?
Keep working your hardest at writing as it can influence someone’s life and the end goal of having a completed novel is worth the effort.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?
All of my favorite books are dystopian-themed, so I would spend a day on any crazy adventure if given the opportunity.


Tell us about your latest book/project.
I am currently working on a sequel to The Uncontrolled. With my busy school and sports schedule, it has been difficult finding the time needed, but I hope that will change soon.

In The Uncontrolled, the robotic way people smile is John's first clue that things are not quite as they seem. His parents are forced to tell him about a plot so abominable that it upends his world. At age 14, everyone is brainwashed with a tracking device by a hidden society called Tracker for Globe or T.F.G. John and his friends learn about the organization when it is their turn to be implanted with the device. Over time, plot twists come into play and John starts seeing visions of the future. He also finds out about a second secret group, the Renegades, who work together with John to take on the T.F.G. in an exciting and unexpected battle.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I am very appreciative of all the support I have received from my family, friends, and readers. I also feel very fortunate that Reading is Fundamental has partnered with me so together, we can motivate more children to read. When I am not playing soccer or the drums, I really do enjoy speaking to children about the importance of reading, writing, and finding a passion in something that inspires them.

For more information about Zachary Astrowsky and his books, visit theuncontrolled.wixsite.com/website.

Q&A with Bethanie Murguia


by Julianne Black


“I wanted readers to be able to make up their own minds about unicorns and magic. Children so often hear the word “No.” This book asks, “What do you think?”

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Do you believe in magic, like when you see something fantastic out of the corner of your eye? Was it a horse in a hat … or was it a unicorn? I was fortunate to have caught up with Bethanie Murguia, author of Do You Believe in Unicorns? (Candlewick). She had some words of wisdom on imagination superpowers, the creative process, and yes, finding unicorns!

Q: I received a copy of Do You Believe in Unicorns? to review and was immediately excited to share it with my 6-year-old! Tell me about how the idea for the elusive unicorn came about, but also about the concept of finding what you expect to see making its way from idea to print.

A: It began with the image of a character in a hat. It could be either a horse or a unicorn—but there’s no way to be sure. I love that the hat creates possibility. Because it’s ambiguous, our own beliefs, experiences, and knowledge become a big part of the story. I wanted readers to be able to make up their own minds about unicorns and magic. Children so often hear the word “No.” This book asks, “What do you think?” It was a vague idea in the beginning, though, and it took many, many revisions to get to the final book. I have 52 versions of this story on my computer. It’s daunting to work on a project when you don’t know where it’s headed, but seeing it work out well is also a good reminder to have faith in the creative process.

Q: Many of your books, including The Too-Scary Story, I Feel Five! and Princess! Fairy! Ballerina! are centered around creativity and imagination like little reminders about the power of wonder and enchantment. Can you tell us your earliest recollection of when you realized your imagination was your superpower?

A: I love this idea of imagination as a superpower. As an adult, I recognize the power of imagination and what a gift it is to be immersed in creating or reading a book. As a child, I don’t know that I paid much attention to it, but I realize now that I definitely had an active imagination as a child. When I was seven, we moved into a house that was over 150 years old. It was so magical to me, with stairs that went nowhere, secret spaces behind tiny doors, and hatches in the wood floors that I was sure led to treasure. I spent years trying to talk my parents into ruining the floors to pull up those nailed down hatches, but they never agreed. It was probably a favor in the long run because it kept the possibility of treasure alive in my mind in the same way the hat allows for the possibility of unicorns. I think possibility is really powerful.

Q: Your illustration style has been described as ”Self-assured pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations….” by Kirkus Reviews. I have to say the description “self-assured” must be music to your ears. As an artist myself I know how intimidating it can be to put your work out there! Tell me about this style of hard and defined line paired with soft shadow and minimal detail. What kind of background can you give us to how your technique evolved?

A:
I’ve been playing with pen and ink since I was in elementary school. I was obsessed with calligraphy and I attribute any perceived “self-assuredness” to years of repeating letterforms over and over and over. But I also adore watercolor because it’s so unpredictable. Combining the two gives control of important details while also allowing for looseness. With that said, I’m always trying out new ways of working. My first books were done with nib pens, but I’ve been experimenting with bamboo pens and brushes because they have very different line qualities. I used both a nib pen and bamboo pen for Do You Believe in Unicorns?.

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Q: Your website is absolutely adorable. I love that your ”About” section is told in snapshots and text and reminds me I need to journal more in my sketchbook! Do you think on paper in doodles and half-created scribble ideas or do you create the ideas in your mind prior to them ever seeing paper? What is your preferred method of harnessing all those loose possibilities?

A: I always doodle! I wish I had a clear picture in my mind, but that’s not the case. I just keep drawing until characters or ideas begin to gel. And sometimes, it takes months or years. I keep files of ideas that haven’t come together … yet. I draw and write and do thumbnails in sketchbooks until I have words and images for a few spreads at least. Then, I start trying to make a book. I also have a giant corkboard in my studio where I hang bits and pieces to see how they might fit together.

Q: One of your blog posts states, “Whenever I have the opportunity to speak about the creative process—whether to children or adults—I usually offer up two pieces of advice: 1. Be a collector 2. Be an experimenter.” Can you elaborate a bit about how this relates to daily life and give an example of a major win in your life to which you can attribute those two points?

A: I think all creative wins require some form of this—collecting raw materials from the world around us and then experimenting with how to put them together to convey what we want to say. I’m always looking for ideas, keeping sketchbooks of moments that are interesting to me—sketches, snippets of conversations, etc.—anything that makes me feel something. These become building blocks for stories. In my case, it’s rarely a lightning bolt that strikes, but rather, continuing to gather little pieces of inspiration.

Q: Any projects in the works for which we should be on the lookout? Do You Believe in Unicorns? was just released in September, but what’s next?

A: Yes! I just finished the final art for The Favorite Book, another collaboration with Candlewick Press. It’s a picture book that explores how we make choices, allowing readers to pick all sorts of favorites along the way. I’m very excited to see this one in print (Fall 2019). And, I recently launched a site, findmoremagic.com, that’s an extension of Do You Believe in Unicorns?. I wanted to create an experience that would expand on the themes of the book. The site has fun DIY activities, a unicorn mystery, and a UnicornCam app for spotting unicorns (iOS).

Bethanie Murguia is represented by Rubin Pfeffer at Rubin Pfeffer Content and you can learn more about her at aquapup.com.

Julianne DiBlasi Black has written and illustrated several books, including Sleep Sweet, the multi-award winning Augmented Reality picture book. bookturnip.com.



Author Spotlight: Tracey Hecht


“We can be bold in adventure. We can be brave in challenge. We can be friends.”

The Nocturnals series features three unlikely friends: Dawn, a serious fox, Tobin, a sweet pangolin, and Bismark, the loud mouthed, pint-sized sugar glider. The stories all play out in their nighttime world with teamwork, friendship and humor in every adventure.

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Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco but knew even when I was young that I wanted to move and live in New York City. As soon as I finished college, I moved to New York and for the most part have been there ever since.

Did you read a lot as a child?
Yes! I loved to read, and I remember in elementary school choosing many recess periods to sit in my classroom and finish a book. I remember once in sixth grade staying to read Where the Red Fern Grows, and when everyone came back from break, I was sobbing on a bean bag in the reading corner of Mrs. Lapachet’s homeroom! That was a bit embarrassing.

Who are some of your favorite authors/books?
I love Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo. For me as a reader, it is immensely engaging, and for me as a writer, it is immeasurably inspiring. Kate DiCamillo’s characters and story lines have always possessed poignant clarity and honesty. I also love the Save the Story series. The best book is a book that leaves you wanting more, and that’s just what Antigone from the Save the Story series did for me. My 25-year-old actor/writer/poet daughter gave my 9-year-old video game/soccer-playing son the Save the Story version of Antigone for Christmas last year. He read it, I read it, we read it aloud, and then we ordered the nine other books from the Save the Story series. These books captivated my entire family.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always been a writer, since I was young. As a child, I also wanted to be an illustrator, and I remember using oil paints in particular to create characters, mostly human at that time. I was an English/creative writing major in college and found jobs from early on that allowed me to write.

Tell us about some of the jobs you had before you became a writer.
I had many jobs! From my early days of babysitting to office administrator and temp jobs in high school. I was a waitress, and I worked in advertising and marketing as well. Then, when I was 40, I sold my business and took a year off. I spent the year thinking about what I wanted to do next. I knew I wanted to write and create, and I also believe strongly in the value of children’s literature as both a form of entertainment and a cognitive tool for children’s development. I decided to write a children’s series that recognized storytelling more broadly. It was over the course of that year that The Nocturnals brand was born.

How did you get started writing?
It’s fun to think of the progression. It all started with the challenge of putting my kids to bed! I thought it would be fun to do a series for kids based on characters that woke up right when kids were just going to sleep. The Nocturnals animals came from that basic idea, and that’s when the series started to take shape. I truly remember sitting on a deck in Maine early one morning four years ago. There was a heavy fog over the lake, and I was the only one in my family awake. I sketched the first ideas for The Nocturnals that morning. Now I’m surrounded by an incredible team and all of our amazing readers, librarians, teachers, and bookstores, and I’m filled with many more ideas of what we’ll do next.

Why do you write books?
I wanted to create a world that children were usually excluded from—nighttime! And once I decided on nocturnal animals, the rest came from there. An exciting aspect—and one that actually surprised me—was how much I like the research. Learning about unusual animals is one of the most fun things about the series. I love using the physical traits and unique characteristics of the animals to help develop characters and enhance plot.

What do you like best about writing?
One of the main reasons I write is to encourage families to incorporate reading together into their routines. Reading aloud is not only vital for a child’s critical thinking and development, but it’s fun and a great opportunity for family bonding. To extend my belief in reading as the center of shared family entertainment, my team and I partnered with The Wyndham Grand Hotel Group for a nationwide family program, Reconnected, a Family Experience—a program that addresses the need for family quality time over screen time—and my first book, The Mysterious Abductions, was included as part of the program for families on vacation. 

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
The moment right before you start. As soon as I am writing, I’m happy, but most days the moments leading up to writing are when I begin to feel daunted. I just have to force myself to dive in!

What do you think makes a good story?
I think rhythmic voices make for compelling stories, especially when reading aloud. When I started writing The Nocturnals, I had just finished writing for film and television. At the time, I was inspired to write a dialogue-based book series in a kind of cinematic vernacular, as I thought kids would find it fun to read. I wrote the three main characters of The Nocturnals in a 3-2-1 staccato. It gives the books a distinct tone, which I love!

Where do you get your inspiration?
Everywhere. People, places, conversations, events, books, television. My imagination can run away pretty quickly, and all it takes is some tiny instigator to get it started. I use my phone less than most people as a result. I like the empty time—the time when I’m not doing anything or looking at anything when my mind can run away.

Tell us about your latest book/project.
My latest book, The Peculiar Possum, is the third addition to my Grow & Read program. It’s a story on the importance of staying true to oneself and not being afraid to be “peculiar” or unique. The story is told with plenty of humor while underscoring the importance of respecting differences in others—a key lesson for children in this age group. My team and I have also developed The Kindness Game. It’s a game designed to support literacy skills and social and emotional learning. The game is ideal for incorporating into bullying-prevention programs and concludes with a student-lead exercise in identifying kind words and behaviors to promote a culture of kindness in schools and libraries.

What’s next for you?
I’m writing two more early readers right now. One deals with cheating and wanting to win; I think many kids can relate to that desire. And the other is about imagination, how letting your mind wander can be great entertainment.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or
your books?
My favorite time to read is on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when I’ve finished any weekend work and I don’t have to worry about starting anything new. I love to read with a snack, and depending on my mood, salty or sweet, I have three favorite reading snacks:

1. Homemade popcorn (popped in a pot, not an air popper) with lime, butter, and salt
2. Supersize whole-wheat scone with raspberry jam
3. Either Mother’s Chocolate Chip Cookies or Nabisco’s Chips Ahoy with mint tea


For more information about Tracey Hecht and her books, visit NocturnalsWorld.com.

Author Spotlight: Lora Rozler


“Like many authors, my books are very personal to me, creations that I have nursed from their infancy until they are shared with the world. Readers will find that they can enjoy my stories on many levels: as literal stories, symbolic allegories, educational tools, and of course, bedtime treats.”

Where did you grow up?
I was born in Israel and moved to Toronto when I was 11 years old. My family had just emigrated from Russia when I was born. I grew up weaved into a mix of cultures which taught me to have an appreciation for differences. But I can honestly say, having lived in Canada most of my life, I feel very much Canadian at heart.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?
I loved (and still enjoy) Shel Silverstein’s color-outside-the-lines style of poems and stories. One of my absolute favourite books by him is The Giving Tree. Also, I’ve always enjoyed fairy tales (but didn’t we all?). Charlotte’s Web, The Babysitter’s Club series and The Outsiders were some of my other favourites when I was growing up.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was 5 years old. At some point that changed to wanting to become an interior designer, a lawyer, and even a psychologist. I finally opted for my first love and chose a career in teaching.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
Some years into my teaching career, I began writing poems and stories for my students. I guess you can say that writing became a calling after I began to see how important storytelling was as an educational tool. But then, I also learned that books added a fun element as well. I’m delighted that I had a built-in audience before I even published my first book!

How did you get started writing?
I wrote quite a bit as a teenager (mostly poetry) but found an audience for my writing in the classroom, writing mainly to support areas of study at school. I eventually discovered a terrific outlet to share my work with others—on my blog (wordsonalimb.com) and associated social media. This allowed me to create a digital library of some of my classroom content. In fact, several years ago, I wrote a poem to teach students about the power of words and their impact. It began to receive positive feedback from students, parents, colleagues, and online subscribers. It soon took a life of its own as an animation and eventually as my first a picture book, Words. This was the breakthrough that marked the beginning of my writing journey.

Why do you write books?
I love taking an idea and molding it to life with words and images. I also love being able to convey important messages through literature. These notions shine through in my book Freshly Baked Pie. It is a simple story, based on a poem that I wrote, that, through effective illustrations and whimsical writing, both gently teaches a lesson and entertains readers.

What do you like best about writing?
I love the creativity and flexibility that writing offers. Anything and everything can exist in our imagination. Real life may have boundaries, but stories, not so much. I revel in seeing a concept, that exists only as a mental sketch, come alive through words and images. I also appreciate the way an author can arrange letters, words, and sentences into a composition that evokes strong emotions—joy, sadness, surprise, wonder or inspiration. I also feel that picture books give me the freedom to take a lyrical form of writing, like poetry, and transform it into a story that can be enjoyed at bedtime. There is something unique about being able to create art from a simple idea.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
Writing requires commitment, dedication, and most of all, discipline in order to take it beyond a hobby. So I have learned to carve out time from my busy schedule to meet self-imposed deadlines. Sometimes I find that ideas flow through my head faster than I have time to devote to them, and that can be quite frustrating.

What do you think makes a good story?
I think a good story has a redeemable value, something the reader can take away, all the while being entertained. Also, a good story has an element that the reader can relate to, whether it be a character or an event. That connection between literature and real life experiences make the story more meaningful to the reader.

Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from working with kids, my students, and my children. Sometimes an idea strikes amid a busy, noisy day. Other times a vision sneaks up in quiet moments of contemplation. My book, Lucky Me, stemmed from a theme we discussed in school. It was around the time of Thanksgiving and we had a great conversation about gratitude and things we felt blessed to have in our lives. This inspired me to write a poem for my class, and eventually I wanted to share this message of gratitude with a wider audience. Regardless of where in the world we each came from, and what stories we each had to tell, we had one thing in common—a sense of gratitude. This element inspired me to incorporate thank you in many languages. Several arduous months later, we published a truly global and memorable, sweet picture book. It was a hop, skip, and a jump from conversation to message-filled pages.

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Tell us about your latest book/project.
My most recent title, The Three Witty Goats Gruff is a modern adaptation of the fairytale, Three Billy Goats Gruff. Once again, the idea came from a simple math lesson about measurement and patterning. My students loved learning math through this story of the three goats! The math unit became my best-selling teacher resource package on a website I love to contribute to, called Teachers Pay Teachers. Once again, I felt compelled to transform this simple lesson into a book that can both teach and entertain kids all over the world. In my remake of the story, I proposed an alternative way for the goats to solve their dilemma—rather than using force to subdue their bully, they use their wit to outmaneuver the greedy old troll. As well, I incorporated a female goat as the heroine of the story as girls are seldom depicted as the hero, and I felt it was time to turn the tables! The book also contains plenty of fun learning opportunities for young children. I am so pleased to have completed and published this title.

What’s next for you?
I am currently working on a compilation book that features many of my poems and short stories that I composed throughout my writing and teaching career. Obviously not all of them can make it into a full picture book! But I wanted to share them in the shorter format just the same. I feel this book will be a landmark piece on a personal and professional level. Sometimes writers can feel vulnerable when they compile an anthology of personal thoughts in words. For me, it is especially the case since I will be sharing work that spans from my early years as a writer to some of my latest poems and short stories. We are currently deciding on the illustrations and book design, but it won’t be long! I am also working on converting my published books into a digital format so parents all over can swipe through my stories on their tablets before bedtime.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I want your readers to know that, like many authors, my books are very personal to me, creations that I have nursed from their infancy until they are shared with the world. Readers will find that they can enjoy my stories on many levels: as literal stories, symbolic allegories, educational tools, and of course, bedtime treats.

For more information about Lora Rozler and her books, visit www.lorarozler.com and www.wordsonalimb.com.


Author Spotlight: Nic Stone


"Poignant and necessary… a novel vital to young adults’ lives that examines the intersections of sexuality, gender, and race—issues and blurred boundaries that teens grapple with in a society that favors neat and tidy boxes." -Booklist, Starred

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Where did you grow up? 
Mostly Norcross, GA. It's about twelve minutes north of Atlanta.

Did you read a lot as a child? 
I did! 

What were some of your favorite authors and books? 
I lived for the Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol and anything with Judy Blume, Roald Dahl or Louis Sachar on the cover. Also wanted to be a spy like Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet and cure strange childhood quirks like Betty MacDonald's Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Then I hit seventh grade, Harry Potter busted his way onto the scene, and that was all she wrote. 

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
I don't think I really knew. This is where the whole “representation matters” piece comes in because I think there were occupations I was interested in (lawyer/judge, author, plastic surgeon) but I didn't see anyone who looked like me actually DOING those jobs ... so subconsciously, I didn't really think I could do them either. For a while, I wanted to be an astronaut, but that was all because of Mae Jemison. I figured out the writer thing eventually.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
What job have I NOT had is a better question! I've worked in childcare and retail, I've been a personal trainer, I've managed a formal gown store, I've sold shoes ... I've even worked in Israel designing Holy Land pilgrimages for American tourists. It's been wild. 

How did you get started writing? 
Email updates during my first summer in Israel. I would do these extensive things with pictures and all that. People loved them. Then I moved into lifestyle blogging. Took me a minute to try my hand at fiction because I was convinced I didn't "have the imagination for it," but clearly, I was wrong. LOL.

How do you write books? 
Very methodically. I spend a good bit of time jotting storyish things—plot points, character quirks/traits, lines of dialogue, you name it—in a composition notebook, and then when there's enough stuff in there, I put things in order and build an outline. Then I draft. Then I revise. 

What do you like best about writing? 
I literally am paid to make things up and/or express my opinion. What could be better?

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
At this point: making time to DO it. 

What do you think makes a good story? 
Solid characters that transform over the course of a believable plot taking place in an immersive setting and driven by emotion-tugging stakes. 

Where do you get your inspiration? 
Literally any and everywhere. 

Tell us about your latest book. 
Odd One Out (Crown Books for Young Readers) follows three high schoolers trying to navigate the intersections of friendship and romance, and figure out who it's okay to love. It's about questioning and attraction and sexuality and labels (or the lack thereof), and it's really my love letter to my teen self, who needed a book just like it. 

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What’s next for you? 
MORE BOOKS! And maybe some other stuff too ... stay tuned!

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books? 
You didn't ask my favorite word or what I like to do in my free time! The former is "sesquipedalian" and the latter: sleep. 


For more information about Nic Stone and her books, visit www.nicstone.info.
Photo by Nigel Livingstone.


Visit Nic Stone at the Miami Book Fair! November 11-18, 2018 at Miami Dade College.

Nic is presenting Odd One Out on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 1 p.m. at the MDC Live Arts Lab

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For more than three decades, Miami Book Fair has been committed to fostering a love of reading in children of all ages. This includes Miami Book Fair’s literacy initiative Read to Learn Books for Free, in partnership with The Children’s Trust, which distributes of thousands of free children's books around Miami-Dade county via its bookshelves; during the 2017-18 school year, over 91,711 books were distributed to the children of Miami-Dade County.

Additionally, MBF hosts over 10,000 school kids – elementary, middle and high school students from all over Miami-Dade County to listen to and meet their favorite authors – many of whom leave with free books.

All-aged fairgoers will enjoy the lively Street Fair and Children’s Alley, a pop-up children’s learning activities village boasting live performances; and, students in K-12 enjoy special author presentations and workshops at the Fair and in their schools as part of the Generation Genius program, and college students will meet with selected authors for in-depth discussions on specific subjects as part of the Fair’s Classroom Collaborations program.

Tickets: Free for kids; $5 12-17 and seniors and $8 general admission

For more information please visit miamibookfair.com

Author Spotlight: Kiersten White


"Exquisitely disturbing. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a beautiful tapestry of horror, sewn together with threads of madness, obsession, and murder. Kiersten White has written a masterful and monstrous retelling." — STEPHANIE GARBER, #1 New York Times and internationally bestselling author of Caraval and Legendary


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Where did you grow up? 
In Utah. I’ve lived in San Diego, California, for fourteen years now.

Did you read a lot as a child? 
Yes! Every chance and every thing I could.

What were some of your favorite authors and books? 
I loved Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery and The Redwall series by Brian Jacques. They were some of my first favorites.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
I always wanted to be an author. It worked out!

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
In high school I worked in a sandwich shop. In college I worked as an editor for professors. And after college I wrote articles for websites before I sold my first book.

How did you get started writing? 
I always wanted to write. When I graduated from college, I had my first baby a couple of weeks later, so I was home with her while my husband did graduate school. He bought me a notebook and said I should start writing the book I was always talking about. It took me two years, but it showed me I could do it!

Why do you write books?
I genuinely love the thrill of discovering a story and the puzzle of pulling it all together. There’s nothing I would rather do.

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
I have three kids, and sometimes it can be hard to have enough quiet in my brain for a story to take root. But once I get momentum, I love drafting and editing.

What do you think makes a good story?
Characters who you don’t necessarily always like, but who you always understand and care about.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
Movies, music, other books, folklore, history, and travel.

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Tell us about your latest book. 
The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a retelling of the original novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. My version makes Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor Frankenstein’s childhood companion and fiancée, the main character. With Victor missing and her place in the Frankenstein house threatened, Elizabeth sets out to find him, determined to let no one—and no thing—stop her.

What’s next for you? 
Slayer, a Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff, comes out in January!

Visit Kiersten White at the Miami Book Fair! November 11-18, 2018 at Miami Dade College.

Kiersten is presenting on the Tales of Transformation: Thrilling YA Fantasy panel on Saturday, Nov. 17, at noon w/Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles), Somaiya Daud (Mirage), Megan Shepard (Grim Lovelies) in the MDC Live Arts Lab. 

 

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For more than three decades, Miami Book Fair has been committed to fostering a love of reading in children of all ages. This includes Miami Book Fair’s literacy initiative Read to Learn Books for Free, in partnership with The Children’s Trust, which distributes of thousands of free children's books around Miami-Dade county via its bookshelves; during the 2017-18 school year, over 91,711 books were distributed to the children of Miami-Dade County.

Additionally, MBF hosts over 10,000 school kids – elementary, middle and high school students from all over Miami-Dade County to listen to and meet their favorite authors – many of whom leave with free books.

All-aged fairgoers will enjoy the lively Street Fair and Children’s Alley, a pop-up children’s learning activities village boasting live performances; and, students in K-12 enjoy special author presentations and workshops at the Fair and in their schools as part of the Generation Genius program, and college students will meet with selected authors for in-depth discussions on specific subjects as part of the Fair’s Classroom Collaborations program.

Tickets: Free for kids; $5 12-17 and seniors and $8 general admission

For more information please visit miamibookfair.com

Author Spotlight: Alex Beard


Can warthogs fly? Do tigers eat broccoli? For answers, follow along as Warthog lies his way to the throne in this timeless, yet most timely tale from the Watering Hole. With a nod to Aesop and Kipling, The Lying King has lessons for everyone, from the playground to the boardroom and beyond.

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Where did you grow up? 
I grew up in NYC in the 1970s, back when the city was a little grittier than it is today, but wonderful for its eccentricity.

Did you read a lot as a child? 
I didn’t really start reading voraciously until I was about 10 years old. I was swept away by Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion of the World, and from there it was off to the literary races.

What are some of your favorite authors and books? 
I’m still a big fan of Roald Dahl, but I also like Kipling and Conrad, in addition I’m a big fan of the genre of anthropomorphic parables, from Animal Farm to Watership Down, Yertle the Turtle and Maus.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
I always wanted to be an artist and author, which I am, but I also would have liked to play third base for the Yankees. I never got the call from George Steinbrenner, though. Oh well.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
I don’t know that I’ve ever really had a job as one might think of it, but I’ve been working pretty hard on the whole artist/author role for quite a while now ... all the way back to my first solo exhibit in SoHo when I was in my early 20s, and while sometimes it’s a little hand to mouth, at least there’s no retirement age.

How did you get started writing? 
I started writing because I was presumptuous enough to think that what I had to write was worth reading, and while my wife would tell you that more often than not what I have to say is hot air, I still think I’ve got a few thoughts worth conveying.

Why do you write books? 
I write books to try to impart truth, and I use wildlife as a means of doing so, because I believe that it’s easier to reflect back on ourselves through the eyes of animals than it is by using people. 

What do you like best about writing? 
I like the process of chewing on a thought until I can refine it down into its most simple and concise form. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle until every piece fits just right to complete the whole.

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
The most challenging aspect is having something worth saying in the first place, and then working on it until the message is conveyed in its least pedantic fashion. It can be hard not to get too preachy, but I learned early to kill my darlings, and that’s been quite helpful.

What do you think makes a good story? 
The best stories are those that transcend the time in which they’re written. A good story  is one that entertains and teaches at the same time.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
I draw my inspiration from Nature. I use animals to soften what I think to be particularly pointed subjects, and try to search for truth and beauty (even when it’s ugly) in what I observe.

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Tell us about your latest book. 
My latest book, The Lying King, is a parable about the rise and fall of the archetypal demagogue. At a time when it seems that truth is on the defensive, The Lying King is my version of what happens in the end to the serial liar. Hint, it never ends well for the liar!

What’s next for you? 
As soon as I’m done touring to promote The Lying King, I’m off to the coast of East Africa to dive with the whale sharks, to spend some time with my family, and to listen to the wind blowing off the Indian Ocean. After that, it’s all wait-and-see pudding!

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I’m not sure what more to say about me and my books, but I would like to leave you all with the following three things:

1) Tell the truth!

2) Expect OTHERS to tell the truth, and

3) Be honest with yourself.

If we all do those three things, I think the world would be a better place.

For more information about Alex Beard and his books, visit alexbeardstudio.com.

Visit Alex Beard at the Miami Book Fair! November 11-18, 2018 at Miami Dade College.

Alex is presenting The Lying King at noon on Sunday, Nov 18
at Mr. Wembley’s Storytorium in Children’s Alley.

For more than three decades, Miami Book Fair has been committed to fostering a love of reading in children of all ages. This includes Miami Book Fair’s literacy initiative Read to Learn Books for Free, in partnership with The Children’s Trust, which distributes of thousands of free children's books around Miami-Dade county via its bookshelves; during the 2017-18 school year, over 91,711 books were distributed to the children of Miami-Dade County.

Additionally, MBF hosts over 10,000 school kids – elementary, middle and high school students from all over Miami-Dade County to listen to and meet their favorite authors – many of whom leave with free books.

All-aged fairgoers will enjoy the lively Street Fair and Children’s Alley, a pop-up children’s learning activities village boasting live performances; and, students in K-12 enjoy special author presentations and workshops at the Fair and in their schools as part of the Generation Genius program, and college students will meet with selected authors for in-depth discussions on specific subjects as part of the Fair’s Classroom Collaborations program.

Tickets: Free for kids; $5 12-17 and seniors and $8 general admission

For more information please visit miamibookfair.com

Author Spotlight: Erin Entrada Kelly


Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly’s You Go First is an engaging exploration of family, bullying, spelling, art, and the ever-complicated world of middle school friendships…

photo by Laurence Kesterson

photo by Laurence Kesterson

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Lake Charles, an industrial town in southwest Louisiana, near the Texas border.

Did you read a lot as a child?
Yes! I was (and am) a huge bookworm.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?
I loved Judy Blume, especially Blubber and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. I also loved Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Halfway Down Paddy Lane, the Sweet Valley High series, and Choose Your Own Adventure. I also enjoyed Christopher Pike thrillers.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I've always wanted to be an author.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
In high school, I worked at a seafood restaurant and at JCPenney. After high school, I was fortunate enough to get an entry-level job at my local paper. I worked my way up to feature writer. After that, I worked as an editor for a lifestyle magazine and as a corporate copy editor. My professional career has always revolved around words.

How did you get started writing?
I've been writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first book when I was eight years old.

Why do you write books?
Books were an escape for me when I was a kid. I want to give that back to today's young readers.

What do you like best about writing?
Honestly, I enjoy the entire process, from the initial idea to the finished product. And I enjoy everything that comes along with publishing—school visits, festival appearances, book signings, talking to fans, book tours. There's nothing about it that makes me grumble.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
I struggle with first drafts. I'm much better at revision.

What do you think makes a good story?
Good characters.

Where do you get your inspiration?
Everywhere! Inspiration surrounds us all the time. You just have to pay attention.

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Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book, You Go First, is about the friendship between two gifted students—Charlotte, who lives in Philadelphia; and Ben, who lives in Louisiana—who meet each other through online Scrabble.

What’s next for you?
My first middle-grade fantasy will be released in May. It's called Lalani of the Distant Sea, and it's inspired by Filipino folklore. I'm really excited about it.

For more information about Erin Entrada Kelly and her books, visit erinentradakelly.com.

Visit Erin at the Miami Book Fair! November 11-18, 2018 at Miami Dade College.

Erin is presenting on the YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND IN ME: HEARTWARMING STORIES OF IDENTITY & BELONGING panel on Sunday., Nov. 18, noon w/Pablo Cartaya (Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish), and  Alex Gino (You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P!) in the MDC Live Arts Lab. 

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For more than three decades, Miami Book Fair has been committed to fostering a love of reading in children of all ages. This includes Miami Book Fair’s literacy initiative Read to Learn Books for Free, in partnership with The Children’s Trust, which distributes of thousands of free children's books around Miami-Dade county via its bookshelves; during the 2017-18 school year, over 91,711 books were distributed to the children of Miami-Dade County.

Additionally, MBF hosts over 10,000 school kids – elementary, middle and high school students from all over Miami-Dade County to listen to and meet their favorite authors – many of whom leave with free books.

All-aged fairgoers will enjoy the lively Street Fair and Children’s Alley, a pop-up children’s learning activities village boasting live performances; and, students in K-12 enjoy special author presentations and workshops at the Fair and in their schools as part of the Generation Genius program, and college students will meet with selected authors for in-depth discussions on specific subjects as part of the Fair’s Classroom Collaborations program.

Tickets: Free for kids; $5 12-17 and seniors and $8 general admission

For more information please visit miamibookfair.com

Author Spotlight: Zack Bush


From a child’s first uttered “Dada” to his or her first unsteady steps, nothing can adequately convey the joy and awe of watching the birth and growth of a new child. Filled with adorable illustrations and the refrain, “You are the one made just for me,” Made for Me is a winning presentation of tender moments that tie a father and his new child together … forever.

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Where did you grow up?
Miami, Florida

Did you read a lot as a child?
Yes—always loved reading.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?
Growing up I loved Judy Blume (who doesn’t?) and Roald Dahl, but my absolute favorite was Shel Silverstein.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always knew I wanted to surround myself with live music. The traditional path never interested me too much. As a bar owner and a writer, I can say my career dreams have really come true!

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
I spent many years working with my family in the waste/recycling business. I also spent a great deal of time promoting/marketing events as well. And of course, as co-owner of Ball & Chain (located in Miami)—I spend a great many days and nights listening to jazz, salsa, and Afro-Cuban funk.

How did you get started writing?
I always enjoyed writing. However, life kind of “takes off” and often times we, myself included, lose site of hobbies. In my case, my passion and zest for writing came back when my first child was born. I was overcome by emotion and KNEW I had to find the words that matched the feelings in my heart.

Why do you write books?
Besides being overcome with emotion and wanting to give words to the feelings in my heart, I really wanted to show that it is ok—and should be encouraged—for a dad to coo over his baby (just as we often see moms doing). My wife and I began reading to our children and I found no books that truly captured what I was trying to capture.

What do you like best about writing?
The challenge. When writing a children’s picture book (especially one that rhymes)—every word has to be perfect. As long as I can remember I always wanted to be published—it just took my kids being born to remind me of this lifetime goal.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
For me, I have to be inspired and this inspiration comes at any and all times—and sometimes not at all. I find I do my best work when I am focused on finding words to match my very own feelings.

What do you think makes a good story?
For me there is something very powerful when a story evokes emotion. This is what I tried to do with Made For Me.

Where do you get your inspiration?
My incredible children and my superhero wife. The best inspiration comes from real-life experiences. Each day is an adventure and I find myself constantly jotting things down on paper or in my phone. With infants and now toddlers —I am inspired each and every day.

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Tell us about your latest book.
Made For Me is a story about a father’s love for his little one. It captures the everyday moments that I experienced (and believe most dads do as well). These moments are beyond precious and I found myself both excited and emotional on a daily basis.

What’s next for you?
I am continuing to write (many new projects in the works)—and of course I am continuing with my passion for the hospitality industry. Besides Ball & Chain (www.BallAndChainMiami.com), I have a Mexican restaurant and bar opening within the next two months and a hotel food and beverage program that will roll out before the end of 2018.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I have been overwhelmed by the support and feedback from Made For Me. I never in my wildest dreams imagined becoming a Publishers Weekly bestseller. More than that, I am blown away by the comments on the Made For Me Facebook page and Amazon review page. I read and reply to each and every one of the comments and they keep me smiling from the inside out.


For more information about Zack Bush and his books, visit facebook.com/MadeForMeBook

Visit Zack Bush at the Miami Book Fair! November 11-18, 2018 at Miami Dade College.

Zack is presenting Made for Me at 12:30 pm on Sunday, Nov 18
at Mr. Wembley’s Storytorium in Children’s Alley.

For more than three decades, Miami Book Fair has been committed to fostering a love of reading in children of all ages. This includes Miami Book Fair’s literacy initiative Read to Learn Books for Free, in partnership with The Children’s Trust, which distributes of thousands of free children's books around Miami-Dade county via its bookshelves; during the 2017-18 school year, over 91,711 books were distributed to the children of Miami-Dade County.

Additionally, MBF hosts over 10,000 school kids – elementary, middle and high school students from all over Miami-Dade County to listen to and meet their favorite authors – many of whom leave with free books.

All-aged fairgoers will enjoy the lively Street Fair and Children’s Alley, a pop-up children’s learning activities village boasting live performances; and, students in K-12 enjoy special author presentations and workshops at the Fair and in their schools as part of the Generation Genius program, and college students will meet with selected authors for in-depth discussions on specific subjects as part of the Fair’s Classroom Collaborations program.

Tickets: Free for kids; $5 12-17 and seniors and $8 general admission

For more information please visit miamibookfair.com


Author Spotlight: Anne Mason

As an explorer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and author, Anne Mason’s life reads like an extraordinary adventure book. Her journey began as a young girl traveling and studying throughout Europe, where she developed her love of teddy bears. In the following years, she took to exploring new heights, literally, as she scaled the frigid ascent to Mt. Everest’s Base Camp (17,600 ft). Today, she continues to write the Mr. Biddle book series and has formed a nonprofit, Biddle’s Scholarly Explorers. 

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Where did you grow up? 
I grew up in the Birmingham-Bloomfield area of Southeastern Michigan.

Did you read a lot as a child? 
I loved to read as a child, especially at night before going to bed.

What were some of your favorite authors and books? 
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White; Swallows and the Amazons by Arthur Ransome and The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene. 

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
I always had aspirations to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
After graduating from Sweet Briar College in Virginia, I commenced work in Boston in the investment industry, primarily composing interoffice brochures and correspondence. In the ensuing years, I travelled back to my home state of Michigan and worked for Automatic Data Processing, where I successfully developed, proofread, and edited training manuals for online databases. Still in Michigan, I developed marketing materials for a related automobile business.

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How did you get started writing? 
One of the fondest memories of my childhood was spending time with my parents and reading classic picture books together. Sharing stories with your children is a valuable way to get them on the path to loving books. This concept is what inspires me to write—creating engaging and edifying stories that families can enjoy reading amongst one another and re-telling throughout the years.  

Why do you write books? 
I enjoy sharing my imagination, creativity and positive expressions. These elements allow me to write naturally and unhindered.

What do you like best about writing? 
The best thing about writing is when a story catches fire and comes to life on the page. Suddenly, it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and what the characters are saying and doing—you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is instantaneously both obvious and surprising ... it’s magical and wonderful. When I sit down to write, I have the opportunity to revisit the many fond memories of my childhood. 

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
The most difficult thing I find about writing is refining an idea into only a few potent words to say the most important and entertaining things.

What do you think makes a good children’s story?
Children want to be challenged, made to think and reconsider; they want to learn and grow and become wiser. Young readers will always like a book with a wonderful story. However, they will only love a book that makes them see the world in a new way. 

Where do you get your inspiration?
I find my inspiration by observing the everyday interactions of wildlife in various settings. With a notepad in hand, I jot down my observations and ponder where these interplays could lead and where they could go. I think of a story. 

Tell us about your latest book.
I have recently completed a new Mr. Biddle book entitled,  A Very Good Christmas Indeed. This is a delightful English story about the spirit of the holiday season and the subtle importance of hope, love, and charity. 

What’s next for you?
I will always continue to pen the Mr. Biddle series of books. In addition, I have formed a nonprofit, Biddle’s Scholarly Explorers. This organization strives to promote literacy and environmental stewardship on a global level through access to reading materials, environmental guides and activities and compassionate educational services. 

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Is there anything that we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you or your books? 
My current book, Mr. Biddle and the Squirrel’s Tale may be purchased on Amazon, Barnes and Noble online, and mrbiddle.com.

A cinematic book trailer may be viewed in Nigel’s Nook on mrbiddle.com.

Author Spotlight: Brian Wray


Brian Wray has been writing professionally since 2003, when he was awarded the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Since then, he has written for Walt Disney Studios and has earned a variety of television producing and writing credits. Inspired by his work at Disney and the bottomless imagination of his daughters, Brian focuses on storytelling for children, including a heartwarming story about an adorable little stuffed bunny with a very relatable problem.

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Where did you grow up? 
I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. I moved away in in 1990, but still go back as often as I can to see family, and enjoy my favorite local food spots. 

Did you read a lot as a child? 
I was read to a lot when I was younger, and that definitely encouraged me to read as I got older. It also inspired me to tell stories at an early age.

What were some of your favorite authors and books? 
I was a big Shel Silverstein fan. There was a copy of The Giving Tree in my 3rd grade classroom, and I was totally intrigued. I also loved Maurice Sendak’s books, and Judy Blume’s as I got older. I thoroughly wore out my copy of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
I definitely wanted to be a storyteller, but I wasn’t always sure what kind. I started writing little stories in elementary school, then making short films as a young teenager. My first professional writing experience was writing screenplays. The goal was always telling stories. 

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
Oh, my. Let’s see… I worked in a movie theater while I was in high school. Did some telemarketing work, too. My apologies if I called you during dinner. I was the person who made donuts at a donut shop, which was a constant temptation for someone who enjoys donuts as much as I do. I’ve done everything from working as a short order cook while I was in college to working on film sets, once I graduated. There’s been a lot of variety.

How did you get started writing? 
The real start was in the fourth grade. My teacher took notice of a story that I wrote for an assignment, and didn’t just praise the work (which would have been fantastic enough), she took the time to encourage me to do more. Not only did she speak to me about my stories one-on-one, but praised the work in front of the entire class, citing things that stood out to her. That might not sound like such a big deal, but for a young boy who may have been feeling just a bit self-conscious, it meant the world. I’ve never forgotten what an impact that had on me, and it makes me so happy to know that there are teachers like that in the world. 

Why do you write books? 
For multiple reasons. I can’t seem to stop, for one. There is something very fulfilling about having an idea fall into your head, sometimes from nowhere, then taking the time to develop it, and craft it on paper. I really do enjoy the process. The greater joy then comes when you’re sharing that story with a child and you can see that they’re engaged in what’s happening. 

What do you like best about writing? 
I like the connections that form when you write. I had the opportunity to write a screenplay for Disney early in my career. It was the first time since writing stories as a child, that I was writing stories intended for children. And I loved it. It reminded me of a story’s possibility to inspire wonder, to transport, and also to discover in it a little bit of ourselves. Those are some of the most wonderful moments of childhood; imagination, exploration, and discovery. When I write, I get to connect back to those moments. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?!

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
The biggest challenge for me when I write is not overthinking it; to just relax and let my natural voice come through. I have to remind myself that I can always go back and tune up what’s there.

What do you think makes a good story? 
That’s a tough question. Different stories speak to people for different reasons. I know that when I was a child, I was most drawn to stories that seemed to be working on two levels; the story that was happening on the surface, but also had a sense that there was a deeper meaning to what was going on. I might not have always known what that deeper meaning was, but it intrigued me, and made me want to find out. So, for me, a good story is a catalyst for a larger thought or discussion, that allows a child’s imagination to wander a bit.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
There is constant inspiration from my family, friends, and now children I meet from readings. I have two amazing, creative, vibrant daughters who provide a steady stream of fun and ideas. I’m very fortunate.

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Tell us about your latest book. 
My latest book is called Unraveling Rose. Rose is a stuffed bunny who loves having fun with the little boy she lives with, until she discovers a loose thread dangling from her arm, and it’s all she can think about. In the end, she learns that things don’t always have to be perfect. I hoped that the story would have a broad appeal, but could also be used by parents to talk to children about obsessive thoughts, which is an issue that impacts an estimated 3 percent of children in the United States alone. Unraveling Rose allows children having those feelings to know they’re not alone.

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What’s next for you? 
My illustrator, Shiloh Penfield, and I are very excited about our next book! It’s scheduled for a 2019 release, and focuses on how to cope with feelings in a healthy way, and what can happen when you try to stuff them down. It’s a story that we hope many children will be able to identify with, and maybe parents, too. 

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books? 
On top of the effort needed to a write a story, having a book published requires a lot of support, and much faith. I’ve had the good luck to be surrounded by both. I am very grateful to work with an amazing artist like Shiloh Penfield. I am also fortunate to work with a publisher (Schiffer Publishing/Pixel Mouse House) that believes in the work, and does a great job getting it out into the world. Books don’t just provide education, but transportation, and opportunity for reflection. I am so happy to be a small part of that. 

Unraveling Rose is available at Amazon.com.

Author Spotlight: Sherry L. Hoffman

A teacher, reading specialist, book reviewer, and author whose educational and inspiring books have earned the Story Monsters Seal of Approval, Eric Hoffer Award, Mom’s Choice Award, Royal Dragonfly Book Award, Purple Dragonfly Book Award, and most recently, Book of the Year for Creative Child Magazine, today’s author spotlight is Sherry L. Hoffman.

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Where did you grow up? 
I grew up on Forest St. in Franklin Township, which is part of Carbon County in Northeast PA. My parents’ ranch home was located directly across from my grandparents’ campground, providing endless summer memories of swimming, volleyball, campfires, riding golf carts, and playing cards with friends and family. Being nestled in the foothills of the Poconos near the borough of Lehighton allowed me to witness all four seasons in beautiful landscapes of mountains, valleys, fields, and lakes. Changing of the seasons always seemed to elicit a feeling of peacefulness, yet excitement of what was to come. There is something about the beauty of nature that inspires me to reflect and want to capture it in pictures or in words.

I still remain in Franklin Township, a few miles from my childhood home. I love that my children could enjoy the area where I grew up and even attend the same elementary school as I did years ago.    

Did you read a lot as a child? 
Reading was and still remains a huge part of my world. My mom was one of my first teachers. She knew how to capture my attention and teach new words by doing crafts like creating a picture book about my family. As a child I enjoyed pop-up books and books like Hop on Pop, Ten Apples Up on Top, Are You My Mother?, There is a Monster at the End of this Book, and Amelia Bedelia. Later on, trips to the grocery store typically yielded new additions to our library with Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books, as well as Bop! and Teen Beat! magazines. 

What are some of your favorite literary memories? 
Some of my favorite literary memories were snuggling next to my mom as she read picture books. She always showed an interest in my reading and learning. I loved when we would set up the Fisher Price record player to listen to books on records while reading along to the stories. The narrators and characters speaking in the stories grabbed my attention and made me want to continue reading more and more. 

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
Around the time I was 10 years old, my friends Dorinda, Alicia, and I formed the Gals’ Club, in which we were the sole creators, writers, and editors of our own neighborhood newspaper entitled Whippoorwill Lake Newspaper; the newspaper was named after my grandparents’ campground located directly across the street from my house. We used a typewriter and set up our shop in our clubhouse, the tent camper in my family’s backyard. We sold our newspapers for 10 cents each and delivered the papers via our bikes and sometimes by my friends’ little red Radio Flyer wagon. Our newspaper captured the attention of a reporter from the local newspaper. Our story was featured in the Times News, and we were invited to visit and tour the Times News building. Seeing the whole process of creating the local newspaper was fascinating. I began to think that one day I would love to be a writer or reporter, as well as being a teacher. 

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
I grew up helping with office work in my family’s fuel oil delivery business R.F. Ohl Fuel Oil located in Lehighton, PA. My older brother Brad delivered fuel oil with my dad, while my mom, big brother Steve, and I worked in the office. Seeing the business grow through the family’s hard work and perseverance was inspiring to me. I knew I would have to do the same to reach my life goals. 

I went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in elementary education from Kutztown University and a master of education degree from East Stroudsburg University. I worked in my hometown school district for 17 years. I substituted grades K – 12 for two years until I was hired as a full-time classroom teacher at Lehighton Area Middle School in 2002. While a middle school teacher, I taught science and reading to 6th graders for 10 years, and I was a grade 5 to 8 reading specialist for three years. Later, I transferred within the district to Mahoning Elementary and Shull-David Elementary schools as a Title 1 reading specialist for grades 1 to 4. 

Recently, I joined my husband at our towing and repair business All-Points Towing, Recovery, and Service Center to work as the office manager, concentrate on my writing, and having a flexible schedule to raise our three children Megan, age 13, Jocelyn, age 10, and Sawyer, age 9. 
  
How did you get started writing? 
As soon as I could hold a crayon, I grew an interest in writing. I recall watching my parents write at the kitchen table as I tried to copy what they wrote in my best handwriting. Although others may have seen scribbles and swirls on my paper, I saw letters and words making up my name and stories. My parents entertained my ideas by listening and encouraging. 

As previously mentioned, my best friends and I had our own newspaper. Their parents and mine supported our endeavors, as well as our neighbors. One next-door neighbor in particular, Mary Miller, enjoyed writing letters to our column “Dear Gals.” She asked us questions about the baby deer that were spotted in the neighborhood, sent us recipes for our newspaper, and even requested answers for our crossword puzzles to be printed in our following newspaper. If we sold lemonade to raise funds for our paper or other endeavors, she was there as a solid customer and supporter. 

As I continued school, my teachers were influential in my writing. From Mrs. Snowberger and Miss Cox teaching how to write the ABCs, form my first words, and rhyme to Mrs. Sowden and Miss Mulligan teaching me how to write in my neatest cursive writing, teachers were some of my biggest supporters and influences along my literary journey. I can recall Mr. Gimble and Mr. Eisenhower teaching me about the classics and introducing me to literary greats in stories as well as building upon the fundamentals of writing, enabling an expansion of vocabulary and stretching my mind to new levels. 

Mr. Novey in high school provided opportunities for projects and life lessons as my friends Misty, Mike, Brett, and I learned the value of researching, preparing, creating, and presenting a project about the decade of the 1940s. Through this, we collectively learned that sometimes we can have the best laid plans fall through, and at times we just need to use our research and knowledge to “wing it” to get the desired results. That concept has been applied to my writing and in life on many occasions; sometimes the best pieces of writing happen when you take a different direction and let go of anything holding you back.

College professors like Professor Harkins at Lehigh Carbon Community College expressed with animated gestures that “Variety is the spice of life.” Dr. Chambers at Kutztown University opened my eyes to new literature by Patricia Polacco and her love of Harry Potter was contagious. I found myself immersed in children’s books during the summer of 2000 while studying to become an elementary school teacher. I wrote reviews to create a book log of 40 books as assigned, and she encouraged me to one day write children’s book reviews. Though I did not pursue that at the time due to a busy school schedule, I kept that positive remark in the back of my mind. Years later, I joined with Story Monsters Ink to do just that. Dr. McLaughlin, Dr. Ramano, and Dr. Moore from East Stroudsburg University challenged me to research, read, and reflect, all while finding creative ways to reach the different learning styles of my students. 

Dr. R and the Colonial Association of Reading Educators (CARE) championed my writing efforts by connecting opportunities to present at the Keystone State Reading Conference in State College, PA and educator receptions and book signings at Barnes and Noble stores. 

Together the teachers in my life taught me that writing can be fun, entertaining, and a learning tool. Because of that, I used my love of poetry and songwriting to create songs about character, science, and reading for my middle school students and later turned them into books for others to enjoy.

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Why do you write books? 
One of the most pivotal moments of my writing career happened in 2011 as my daughter Megan stepped off of the bus as a kindergartner. We chatted as we walked down the driveway to our house. I asked her about her day and she told me it was “Good.” I said, “What did you learn about?” and she said, “Buckets.” Intrigued by this comment, I had to learn more. It turned out that her principal at the time Gretchen Laviolette had just read Have You Filled a Bucket Today? to her class. My daughter continued to tell me all about how everyone has a bucket and if we do something nice we fill that person’s bucket and our own. If we don’t do something nice we dip into that person’s bucket. 

I thought it was such a great concept and couldn’t wait to find the book. I searched online and found the bucket books. I wrote many poems to teach this concept to my students and own kids, eventually sending the poems to the author, Carol McCloud. She encouraged me to write my own book of bucket filling poems. It took me a year to write my book, and then she said I could send it to her publisher. I did just that. Nine months later, I was holding my book with a new title from the publisher: A to Z Character Education for the Classroom

The publishing process was a learning experience and so much fun. It made me want to continue writing for my students and kids. I went on to write Be the Best Version of You: A Teacher’s Poem for Her Students, which was a letter I wrote to my middle school students for their last day of classes. Because two students excitedly asked me for a copy of the poem, I decided to turn it into a book for them. Later, I penned Can You Dig It? All About the Temperate Soil Profile because former students every year would come back and visit me in my classroom, asking for a copy of the “Soil Song.”  

Every book had a purpose, and Driver Dad: Towman to the Rescue came to be because my tow truck driver husband had a close call one night while towing a car alongside the highway. I wanted to spread the message about the “Slow Down, Move Over” law, hoping to make drivers aware of the need to slow down and move over when emergency vehicles are alongside the road. 

Elf Olaf, Santa’s Magical Gift was a promise that my longtime friend and pet photographer Dietra DeRose decided to create when we were in Mr. Miller’s Art class in seventh grade in 1990. We always talked about how one day we were going to create a book together. Our book showcases her love of pet photography and includes adorable ferrets and cocker spaniels in Christmas settings. Through her pictures, I pieced together a story about a magical ferret elf named Olaf who learns about the importance of giving and bringing smiles to others.

Forever Thankful, Good Night was the result of a long winter snowstorm and snow day vacations from school. It is a story about being thankful for the many reasons in our life. It led me to write my latest book Grateful for You, Good Night!

What do you like best about writing? 
Writing is therapeutic and helps me to relax, create, and reach goals. However, my favorite part is weaving words together that hopefully will help to put positive vibes into the world. I hope to make a difference and help others find their gifts through writing and inspiring. 

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
The most challenging part of writing is concentrating on one project at a time. I usually have many stories going at once. I pick the story I want to work on, depending on my mood. 

What makes a good story? 
A good story is like meeting a new friend. It has character, captivates, and inspires.

Tell us about your latest book. 
Grateful for You, Good Night! is a sweet, relaxing bedtime story, which develops a routine of responsibility, prayers, and gratefulness. This story has a poetic quality with soothing illustrations and design by Jacqueline Challiss Hill. It allows readers to take their own special journey of making memories with their families. Together, the poetic nature of the story and the illustrations reflect how saying good night and being thankful are two important parts of a loving bedtime routine.

Families play a vital role in building and supporting children’s sense of security and comfort. Through the sequencing of events, of which children can expect to follow every night, parents help to develop a feeling of relaxation, transitioning their children to a night of restful sleep. 

This is the second book Jacqueline has illustrated and designed for me; the first book was a character curriculum book as previously mentioned A to Z Character Education for the Classroom

What’s next for you? 
I am super excited for my next book, which has a working title of How the Farm Wakes Up. This children’s story will feature illustrations and design by my dear illustrator friend Jacqueline Challiss Hill. Young readers will enjoy reading a rhyming story about animals waking up in the morning on a farm.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
Inspiration for my stories comes from my children, teaching, and life experiences. I feel that words of encouragement can go a long way. From a principal reading a story, to my oldest daughter retelling the story, to a children’s author responding to my enthusiastic email, to students expressing interest in my songs and poems, to the support of my teachers, family, and friends, words matter. I am thankful for the people in my life and the words of encouragement offered along my literary journey. They made me feel empowered to continue to write and reach my dreams. 


For more information about Sherry L. Hoffman and her books, visit SherryLHoffman.com.
 

Author Spotlight: Lea Herrick

Lea Herrick is the award-winning author of The Courageous Corgi and Ace, King of My Heart, and was inspired to write the books as tributes to her love for animals and the environment, with the hope that all living things will be cherished and protected.

Where did you grow up?    
I grew up in the Baltimore/Washington area but lived in Europe during part of my grade school years where my father was stationed abroad. I was given a wonderful opportunity to see other countries and cultures as a child at a time when most people were not traveling yet.

Did you read a lot as a child?  
Some of my first memories were of going to the Woolworth or Kresge dime stores with my mother and if I behaved, right before leaving the store, I would be allowed to select a Golden Book. Also, in elementary school, every child was given a Scholastic Books flyer to order books to purchase for reading at home. It was so exciting when the books arrived! I loved Margaret Rey’s Curious George series, the Homer Price books by Robert McCluskey, and Henry Huggins books by Beverly Cleary. I think there was a theme of curiosity and mischievousness that intrigued me. I also loved the Nancy Drew mysteries by Carolyn Keene.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?   
I still love to read books for young readers, such as Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague series. I also have enjoyed Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, Lisa Greenwald’s Dog Beach Unleashed and Gilbert Byron’s Mission Boy, which is a novel about Spanish Jesuits in the Chesapeake Bay area. My all-time favorite book is Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and I spent one entire summer reading that as a teenager.

What did you want to be when you grew up?   
Believe it or not, I wanted to be a geologist. At some point, I decided that maybe rocks were not my thing. Years later, I went on to get a Bachelor of Science degree and have loved animals, the beach, and things pertaining to nature ever since.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.  
I began babysitting and had a neighborhood carwash business at age 11. Then in my teen years, I worked in a movie theatre and eventually had jobs as a secretary, bookkeeper, bartender, waitress, social worker, and volunteer coordinator.

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How did you get started writing?    
I was writing reports and newsletters in some of my full-time jobs, but when I retired, I felt a need to write a book as a tribute to my beloved corgi rescue dogs who came to my aid during a debilitating illness—hence, my first book in 2004, The Courageous Corgi, which is based on a true story. My two corgis came over to America from Wales and since my family also came to America from Europe, it became kind of autobiographical. I was thrilled when a London magazine picked up the story, and I even received a letter from Queen Elizabeth’s secretary regarding my book! Best Friends Magazine was the first to review The Courageous Corgi and just being a tiny part of the no-kill movement and seeing the growth in animal rescue is beyond words! Over the years, our family has had a number of rescue dogs, and currently my husband and I have two rescues—a standard poodle and a cocker spaniel. They came as a bonded pair and these “brothers” make us rich in love and teach us that the simplest pleasures in life are things that money just can’t buy.

Why do you write books?   
I love the creative process of telling a story, envisioning the cover, the art work, etc., but most importantly, want to convey a message in what I write. I want people to feel good at the conclusion of my books and take away something to inspire them as they go about their daily lives.

What do you like best about writing?   
I love watching the story unfold as it all comes together in a neat package.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?   
Multiple edits and rewrites to get the story and syntax just right can be very challenging, especially when you are trying to remember all your grammar rules from so many years ago.

What do you think makes a good story?   
Inspiration from a true event or place that the writer has experienced and has a passion for makes a great story. Write what you know.

Where do you get your inspiration?   
My inspiration these days are the animals and the beauty of our surrounding environment and wanting to share this message of protecting and conserving what is right in front of all of us. Also, my mother was my role model as she was a terrific writer and had a weekly column in our local newspaper as I grew up. She wrote poems during World War II, which unfortunately have been lost, but she also wrote a beautiful synthesis about immigration and her family in the early 1900’s, coming to America in steerage through Ellis Island.

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Tell us about your latest book.  
Ace, King of My Heart is my latest book and is a celebration of the 50th birthday of Assateague Island National Seashore and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. It tells the story of the herd behavior of the wild horses on the barrier island off the coast of Maryland and incorporates the animals and plants of the ecosystems that co-exist with the horses on Assateague. The herd on the Maryland side of the island are never rounded up and sold. They are allowed to live out their days as free, wild animals. The book was written at the time of the first round of talks regarding off-shore drilling off the coast of Maryland, and I wanted to capture a snapshot of what Assateague was like at that moment in time, through the eyes of a young colt, so that no matter what happens in the future, we will always have a mental picture of the island before any man-made intervention.

I remember listening to the baseball games with my dad on the radio, and the announcers were so adept at describing everything that you could envision it, and it was like you were sitting right in the stands at the ballpark. That is what I try to do when I am writing a story so that you feel like you are in that place and time. The park rangers and so many people that take care of Assateague State and National Park need to be commended for the terrific job they do, and a special shout-out to all that helped with the book! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my husband, who has worked with me and whose photographs served as templates for many of the illustrations in Ace, King of My Heart.

What’s next for you?   
I don’t think I am finished with the Maryland Eastern Shore as we have such bounteous gifts of beauty of our natural environment, and there are still more stories to tell.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I’d like people to know that every person can have a second act, or a third act in life, and whatever that is, use your talents to try and make our world a better place. Take a chance, take a risk, and just go for it!

Lea's books are available on Amazon.com.