It was an honor and pleasure to be interviewed by Debbie Gonzalez for her podcast. Debbie inspired me through her inciting questions about love, loss, and celebrating life. More so, she suggests that I was chosen for my path, an incredible thought. Here’s to all who have guided and supported me on my journey. You were chosen as well.
In the Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh reflects on her life and her roles as a wife, bereaved mother, mother to five other children, and writer.
I’ve read this treasure numerous times, gleaning something applicable to my life at the moment each visit.
Mrs. Morrow Lindbergh shared her meditations from a little cabin by the sea in Captiva, as she temporarily stepped away from the responsibilities of her life.
Simply put, she retreated. She reflected. She wrote.
I’m doing the same, and I need to for my own health and well-being.
I told my daughter Kyle on a visit in March that I was feeling anxious about the numerous appearances, events, and presentations that filled my calendar early-April through May. I admitted that many of these activities are out of my natural comfort zone.
She responded, “You’d never know that.”
Revelation: at my core, I’m still that shy, not-so-confident girl from a small town.
Life has forced me out of my shell, just like the little hermit crab who resided in the channelled whelk shell Mrs. Morrow Lindbergh discovered.
As my girlfriend Gayle offered, “we’d never know that because you do all that you do so well. But I get it…and since it’s not within your innate nature, it takes all the more energy from you.”
There’s more to the story too. Let’s just say that sometimes being an author of nonfiction for young readers can be challenging.
I find myself questioning who I am, and who I should be as a writer.
As Mrs. Morrow Lindbergh offers, this is a time in life when I should be “shedding shells,” shells of pride, self-ambition, one’s mask, one’s armor. It is a time, particularly as a woman, to find our “true center.”
I ask for your support as I reflect, retreat in my inner shell, and continue to discover purpose as a writer.
My heart is filled with hope that as I pull back and within, as I escape to my own waterside haven, that the universe reveals where my “true center” is.
This weekend I had the opportunity to be surrounded by amazing creators of children’s books. Now, I know what you’re thinking. As the co-founder of Claire’s Day, a children’s book festival, this would not be unusual for me. In my role as an author, this isn’t necessarily a new experience either, as I’ve been fortunate to attend many Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators meetings and conferences.
But, this was different.
This was a writing workshop specifically for nonfiction children’s book authors, editors and agents.
Ahhh…finally. My peeps.
I felt like the nonfiction kid-lit shelves at my local bookstore literally came to life in front of my eyes as I met my fellow attendees. Writers I only knew through common on-line writing groups or social media were there, live and in person. I met scientists, educators, and biographers, all passionate about sharing their discoveries in creative and exciting works with children of all ages.
These writers have created works on everything from the history of dogs, to the significance of road kill. It was a thrill to meet peers who have written biographies I’ve read as mentor texts, admiring their style and structure.
I fan-girled over Candace Fleming, whose works range from stories about giant squids, to revealing, incredible biographies of Amelia Earhart and Buffalo Bill. I learned about the importance of “vital idea” of story and exciting page turns from Candace.
Jennifer Swanson, the creative genius behind the workshop, shared her excitement over establishing a nonprofit that provides author school visits to children who might not ever have the chance for this incredible experience otherwise. Jen participated in Claire’s Day last year, and it has been an honor offering her support and advice in this endeavor.
It was awesome meeting editors who are passionate about nonfiction, who are actively acquiring the manuscripts we are all creating.
Most of all, it was so refreshing to talk about research, back matter, interviewing subjects, challenges in getting experts to “vet” our manuscripts, agents who specialize in nonfiction, and all things related to the beauty and opportunities in this genre as an author.
I walked away from the experience feeling as though I have a whole new support group of writers who really “get” what I’m doing, because they are walking the same path. They speak my language.
My new peeps. Nice to meet you.
When asked what I do, I used to rip off a litany of roles I’ve served.
Wife, mom, founder of Claire’s Day, former council woman.
Now I simply respond; I write.
The next question is the obvious. What do you write?
And I say, children’s books.
Usually people are pretty stoked about that and assume I’ve written picture books of renown.
That is not the case, but most people are still impressed when I tell them about my books, all of which have been traditionally published.
Usually the conversation ends there, but every now and then someone asks me the same question I find so fascinating about other writers.
How do you write?
The simple answer is I write nearly every day, at my desk, in my home office.
But, to be very honest, a writer’s life, or at least this one, is so much more than that.
I’ll start by offering that I am blessed to have the emotional and financial support of my husband. I’m not yet at the stage that I could be self-supporting on my income. Many writers aren’t. I’m amazed by those who work full-time at another job, and just as much as a writer.
In my case, my goal is to get my derriere in chair by 10 a.m. every morning.
I take care of my non-writing responsibilities in the morning. I watch the sunrise while having a cup of coffee and hanging with my husband and 3-year-old Labrador Retriever, Luna.
Then I drink a magic potion consisting of kale, spinach, avocado, almond milk, and frozen fruit. It’s green, but it’s yummy, I promise.
Luna, known as Lunatic when she was a puppy, usually whines at the front door if I don’t have my tennis shoes on by 7:30. We high tail it around a golf course for 45 minutes, give or take a few if we visit with the golf professional or groundskeepers, then home.
Correspondence, social media, laundry, groceries, housecleaning all fall in the category of chores before 10 a.m. My local librarian and grocer are used to seeing me with a ball cap on.
Then, with the help of my magic potion and Pandora, I’m at my desk by the bewitching hour.
Then I stay there until 4:30, writing, creating, musing, meeting deadlines, both contracted and self-imposed.
But, and here’s the trick for me, I’m not glued to my chair.
Between my walks in the morning and breaks from my chair, I’m easily wracking up 10,000 steps daily.
If I get stuck, I get up.
I dance. (Although I can only listen to so much Michael Jackson, otherwise my response to the question as to what I do would be that. I dance.)
I get back in chair.
So, as simple as this all seems, it is.
And, I am so happy to be able to answer the question as to what I do, simply.
As I began to reflect on an amazing series of coincidences which lead up to a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us involved, a classic Seals and Crofts song came to mind;
Life, so they say, is but a game
And they let it slip away
Love, like the autumn sun
Should be dyin’, but it’s only just begun
Like the twilight in the road up ahead
They don’t see just where we’re goin’
And all the secrets in the universe
Whisper in our ears
And all the years
Will come and go
Take us up, always up
We may never pass this way again, we may never pass this way again, we may never pass this way again…
Back in October, I was invited to participate on a panel of middle-grade authors at the Ohio Educational Library Media Association conference in Columbus. The panel discussion was scheduled bright and early, 8 a.m. Instead of getting up at zero-dark thirty to drive down that morning, I had dinner with our son Ian the evening before and stayed over with my friend Barbara Sears, former State House representative. After dinner we joined up with neighbors, and I met Laura Battocletti, the director of the Statehouse. Yes, the Statehouse in Columbus, the one with the big cupola, and the beautiful rotunda with its dazzling skylight, restored through a penny-collecting campaign with schoolchildren from Ohio.
Barbara, taking on her new role as my publicity agent, shared my latest book, a biography of children’s literature icon, Virginia Hamilton, with Laura. Virginia is the most honored children’s book author ever. Yet, there was one award she had not received. Laura asked if I was aware of the Great Ohioan award. The award has been in existence since 2003, and given to individuals who have made a significant contribution to World, American or Ohio history by the Capitol Square Advisory Board.
As we talked about Virginia’s accomplishments, including being the first African American woman to receive the Newbery Award, we agreed Virginia was an ideal candidate.
Fast forward to several weeks later. While participating in the Cincinnati Book Festival, I met a young mother, Angie, and her daughter, fourth-grader, Annie. They were thrilled to learn that I had written a biography of Virginia. Annie wrote a report on Virginia several years before, based on her love for her stories. Angie knew Jaime Adoff, Virginia’s son, and Annie reached out to him as a resource for her paper.
So, there I was at the book festival, looking at little Annie with her big brown eyes, filled with excitement as I personally signed my biography of Virginia to her. Angie and I exchanged contact info, promising to keep in touch.
Several weeks later, I received an email from Laura, with a link to the Great Ohioan Award nomination form. I reviewed, submitted, and sent in my nomination of Virginia.
And then I reached out to Angie, to see if perhaps she, or Annie, might want to send a letter to support my nomination. Of course, they would, Angie replied.
Time passed, and I didn’t think much more about it. Until I received a note from Laura, advising me that Virginia was to be confirmed formally as a recipient of a Great Ohioan Award. And, the board was so impressed by little ten-year-old Annie’s letter, that Annie and her class were to be bused to Columbus from Cincinnati for the confirmation, and given a private tour of the statehouse. How cool is that?
I was sworn to secrecy until yesterday’s ceremonies, but I could not wait to tell Arnold Adoff, Virginia’s husband, and Jaime. Arnold could not attend the ceremonies for health reasons, but Jaime took a personal day from his teaching position at McKinney Middle School in Yellow Springs to join the momentous occasion.
Annie, her parents and grandmother, her teacher, Jaime, and yours truly were ushered into the Capitol Square Foundation Board meeting. Annie was invited to sit beside Chair Charles Moses. Cool as a cucumber, Annie read a synopsis of her nomination, and in a glimpse of her future as a politician, finished with a joke. Yes, in front of the stoic, now smiling board members, since Virginia loved frogs, little Annie told a joke.
“What do frogs order at McDonald’s?”
And, with perfect comedic timing, Annie offered, “Burgers and flies!”
I looked over at Angie, who was laughing and crying at the same time. We all were.
Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger introduced Jaime, who offered that of all the awards his mother had received, that she would be so honored by this recognition, as she was so proud of her home state, and much of her writings featured Ohio’s landscape.
After the nomination was formally unanimously approved, the member’s eyes filled with appreciation, the meeting was adjourned.
As if the process was not enough for Annie and all of us, her entourage, we were escorted to the House floor, where typically no one, outside of representatives, are allowed.
Much less the Speaker’s chair.
Yep, that’s Annie, with the Speaker, who lent his pin to her for the honor of overseeing official photos of the occasion.
From there we were escorted through the Statehouse, Jaime, Angie and I sharing our amazement over the coincidences leading to the day.
I shared over lunch that it was not lost on me that it was my forever fourth-grader, Claire, who as my guardian angel, may have had a hand in all of this.
Claire’s assigned number, based on alphabetical order throughout her class years was #17. Ohio was the 17th state admitted to the Union.
Claire loved books and sharing stories, and we’ve chosen to honor her through Claire’s Day. It was through Claire’s Day that my first book, a picture book about the state, Hidden Ohio, came to be.
I loved writing for children, and hoped to have more books published. To accomplish this goal, I started attending Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conferences. It was at one of these conferences that I learned my friend, Michelle Houts, was writing and editing for a new series being published by Ohio University Press. Biographies for Young Readers features primarily Ohioans who have made their mark in the world.
It was through Claire’s Day that I became aware of the Virginia Hamilton conference and came to know Jaime and Arnold, ultimately leading to writing Virginia’s biography for the series, and nominating her for the award.
And then, reaching out to another little fourth grader to help honor Virginia.
Coincidences or secrets of the universe whispering in our ears?
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to keep listening.
In honor of the late Virginia Hamilton, a GREAT OHIOAN.
Photos courtesy of Ohio Statehouse