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.

Brian Wray.png


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.

Unraveling Rose.jpg

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.

Unraveling Rose2.jpg

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.

Sherry L. Hoffman.JPG

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.

Sherry Hoffman.png

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.

The Courageous Corgi.png

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.

Ace, King of My Heart.jpg

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.

 

Author Spotlight: Alva Sachs


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

IMG_8465.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alva-sachs-books.png

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

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

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

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

Author Spotlight: Mark Stevens

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

mark-stevens.jpg

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

skys-amazing-dream.jpg

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

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

Author Spotlight: Susan Count

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

Susan4.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The real Selah and her painted dream.

The real Selah and her painted dream.

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

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

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

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

Count.png

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

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


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

Author Spotlight: Shanalee Sharboneau

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

Shanalee 1.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shanamom2.png

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

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

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

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

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

Shanadad2.png

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

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

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

Author Spotlight: Tara McCarton

Tara McCarton.jpg

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

Where did you grow up?
Brooklyn, NY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wish.jpg

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

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

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

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