June 15, 2018

The "Processing Grief" Part of the Writing Life

With Father's Day upon us, I find myself reflecting on world events impacting children and families and how my own family has been hit hard with personal loss over the last few months. There has been a lot of grief to process.
Photo Credit: Dawn Prochovnic

My kids lost two grandparents (which means I lost two parents) in the span of a month and a day. Pee-Paw had suffered from tremendous back and hip pain for many years. Last fall, this pain intensified, and it was discovered that there was a mass growing in his spine. He had planned to undergo surgery in January, but in late December he was rushed to the hospital because the mass had grown, putting pressure on his spine and diminishing his ability to bare his own weight. The spine surgery itself went well. Sadly, the mass was not benign--it was melanoma that had metastasized, likely from a melanoma that had been removed from his shoulder more than a dozen years earlier. Pee-Paw experienced a series of mishaps and setbacks during his surgical recovery process, and as a result he never fully recovered from his surgery.

A couple of days before Pee-Paw transferred from the hospital into home-based hospice, family members gathered in a spacious hospital room with a gorgeous view that his doctor had thoughtfully moved him into. Pee-Paw called this gathering "his party," and in a way, that is exactly what it was. One of the family members that attended this party was my father-in-law, aka Pop, 92 years old and in declining health. He and Pee-Paw teased about who would make it to the other side first. I think Pee-Paw actually said, "I'll race you." Pee-Paw "won," but not by much. Pee-Paw entered into home-based hospice on February 21, 2018, and he passed away in his home, with his family and his beloved pets by his side on March 7, 2018. He did not want a service or any type of public gathering, but our family has privately gathered and grieved, and we are still grieving.

A couple of days after Pee-Paw entered into home-based hospice at his home, Pop entered into palliative care, and soon after home-based hospice in his home. I remember saying to my sister that I simply moved my Hospice Office from one house to the next. The month following Pee-Paw's passing was spent in my husband's childhood home, supporting my parents-in-law, and sharing in family time with the love and support offered by (oh so wonderful) Hospice nurses. Pop passed away snuggled into bed with his loving wife by his side on April 8, 2018. He was ready to go. Our world will never be the same without him.

On May 20, 2018, we had a very moving celebration of life for Pop. I've shared below Pop's heartfelt obituary and the words I shared at his service. But before I move onto that, I must share what is troubling my heart today. It might feel like an abrupt transition, but it is what is on my mind as I think about Pop each and every day while the United States, under the Trump administration, separates innocent, immigrant children from their parents as a matter of policy.

As you will discover in reading Pop's story in his obituary below, he was a Holocaust survivor and an immigrant. His family and his friends and neighbors were forced out of their homes and moved into "the ghetto" as a matter of policy because they were Jewish. Pop's father died in the ghetto, and Pop was separated from his mother and siblings when they were put onto different trains and transported like livestock to prison work camps and gas chambers. Although Pop lived a full and remarkable life, he felt the loss of the separation from his family until his dying day. In the last weeks and months of his life, Pop had relentless nightmares about the atrocities he experienced in his childhood. Many of those nightmares centered on the experience of being separated from his mother, and he woke up from most all of his nightmares calling out for his mother. Fellow Americans, don't think for a minute that the innocent children our country is separating from mothers and fathers and siblings will simply recover from the atrocity of familial separation we are, as a matter of policy, inflicting on them.  If you find this policy appalling, Stand up. Speak up. Take action. Here are some ways to get started.

And if you need some inspiration, find it in the remarkable life of Henry Prochovnic, and in the love that he had for his family, and that you, dear reader, may have for your own family. Here is Pop's obituary:

Henry Prochovnic
December 12, 1925 - April 8, 201
Henry Prochovnic, extraordinary husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, passed away peacefully on Sunday, April 8, 2018 at the age of 92. His long-standing final wishes were met with honor and love: to pass in his home, in his own bed, with his beautiful wife by his side. 

Henry was born in a small town in Poland in 1925, where he lived with his family until the Nazi invasion. His parents (Schmuel & Dovorah) and brothers (Alek & Beumo) perished in the Holocaust. Henry survived, enduring the atrocities of Auschwitz and other concentration camps. In 1948, he immigrated to America through Ellis Island and settled in Portland, Oregon. In 1962, he was joyfully reunited with his sister, Rose, after discovering that she, too, was a Holocaust survivor.

Henry first set eyes on the love of his life, Tatiana "Teena,“ in 1952. They married that same year, and soon after started the family that would become Henry’s proudest accomplishment. In July of last year, Henry and Teena celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. In the days and hours leading up to Henry’s passing, the family home of 63 years was typically abuzz with activity, love, and support from family members spanning four generations.

Henry took pride in providing for his family and was a valued and dedicated employee of Northwest Packing Company for 41 years, retiring in 1990. He had an exceptional work ethic, never missing a day of work or an opportunity to work overtime. During his retirement years, Henry logged thousands of miles bicycle riding on Willamette Boulevard.  

While Henry is known for his work ethic, strength, and stubbornness, his lasting legacy is his enduring adoration for his wife Teena and the family they created and nurtured over the past seven decades. Henry is survived by his wife, Teena; children, Dorothy (Greg), John (Karen), and Sam (Dawn); grandchildren, Ilene (Parker), Lisa (Sam), Jason (Heather), Patricia (Nathan), Katia, and Nikko; and great-grandchildren, Donavin, Autumn, Alex, Olivia, Savannah, Carter, Connor, Evalynn, Henry, and Matthew.

*****

And here are the words I spoke at Pop's service:

****

My Love Letter to Pop: 

Dear Pop,

There are some things I’d like to thank you for. First of all, thank you for raising such a kind and gentle son.  (I’m talking about Sam of course—I don’t know what happened with John ; )

Seriously, though, you raised an amazing family, and I’m grateful to have married into it and to have been welcomed with such open arms. I hold a clear memory of the day that Sam first introduced me to you. Right away you said, “Call me Pop. That’s what everyone calls me.” That wasn’t true of course; only family members call you Pop. But that was your way of saying, “I already love you. Welcome to the family.” That was back when I was 18.

I am so grateful for the love you’ve shown me over the years and for the example you set in devoting yourself to loving Mom and the family you created together. Your adoration for your grandkids is indisputable, and I’m particularly grateful for the love you’ve shared with Katia and Nikko. Each and every time those kids walked through your kitchen door, your eyes lit up, your smile beamed from ear to ear, and your voice let out a hearty greeting —whether you’d seen us as recently as the day before, or it had been a week a more since our last visit. You were delighted, each and every time. 

Most of all, though, I am grateful for your strength. That you somehow endured the atrocities you witnessed and were subjected to during the Holocaust. I am acutely aware of the fact that had you not survived, the life I know and share with your son and our two children would not exist. 

On a lighter note, speaking of strength, you set the bar very high for lid tightening and knot tying. Any time Sam and I attempt to secure something to the roof of our vehicle, I think of you. I’m pretty sure you would never be satisfied with any of our rock solid best attempts at knot tying. 

You also set the bar very high in terms of household safety. I promise I will think of you every time I test the smoke alarm. And I promise, I’m gonna test it regularly. 


I love you, Pop. I always have. I always will. 

****
The picture below is the family that Pop created, nurtured, and loved. A family that exists because America once welcomed immigrants and had values that aligned with the words on the Statue of Liberty: 

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"  (Source: NPS.gov)


I promise you, Pop, I will continue to work for an America worthy of those words. For those who want to join me, you can begin by doing what Stephan Colbert suggests: "...for Father's Day, call your elected representatives and demand they do something. Because I sincerely believe that it doesn't matter who you voted for--if you let this happen in our name, we are a feckless country." 

Photo Credit: Lisa Marie Photography

June 11, 2018

School Author Visits

As I've said before, one of the supreme delights in my work is being invited to schools and libraries as a visiting author.

Over the past several years, I've had the pleasure of being invited to Raleigh Park Elementary School each spring to present young writers' workshops to their students. Raleigh Park is a PYP (Primary Years Programme) school, and author visits tie in with their Programme of InquiryRaleigh Park's PTO generously supports my author visits each school year.

As in years past, during my first round of classroom visits I presented, "Write On!" a workshop about why I write and some of the amazing experiences I've had because I'm an author. During the second round of visits I presented, "Gotcha! How to Find and Capture Great Writing Ideas."

One of my favorite parts of school visits is receiving letters and pictures from the students. The image to the right is a sampling of letters that arrived in my mail box soon after my visits.

Whenever students write to me after an author visit, I do my very best to write back to them. Here is the letter I just wrote to one of the three classrooms I visited:

*****
Dear Mrs. Baumgartner’s Class,

Thank you for taking the time to write and for letting me know what you learned when I visited your school.  Pickle and I have read and re-read each of your letters, and we have greatly enjoyed your artwork. I especially liked how many of you included pictures or mention of my chicken hat, reading trophy, pajama pants, and Pickle the Cat in your notes! Pickle is sitting on my lap as I write to you today.

I’m delighted that so many of you are excited about writing and sharing your own stories, and I’m happy that you enjoyed learning some sign language.  I hope you continue to read, write, and sign regularly and with enthusiasm!  

Many of you had additional comments and questions.  My responses are below:

Kennedy: You mentioned that your favorite color is purple. That’s my favorite color, too! It sounds like you are writing books about cats, teenagers and spies. Fun! Keep at it!

Sophie: I’m glad you like my books. You can find them at most local library branches. I encourage you to check them out this summer!

Suhey: I’m glad you love writing and that you have a diary. Keep writing in it all summer long!

Anthony: You asked me to tell you the names of my new books. I have two new books that will be available in 2019. They are entitled: WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? and WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? As you can probably tell, they are humorous stories.

Alexis: I’m so glad you know how to say “Hi” in sign language. If you want to learn how to say other words in American Sign Language, here is a helpful website: https://www.signingsavvy.com/

Eleanor: How fun that your dad writes books and that one of his books is about you. That’s wonderful! Maybe YOU could write a book about HIM?!

William G.: I’m glad you think I’ve inspired lots of people to make books. I hope one of the people I’ve inspired is you! Thanks for telling me about your friend’s cat. Maybe you could write a story about your friend or about your friend’s cat?

Camillo: Hooray to you for spelling KNOWLEDGE all on your own! I’m so glad I INSPIRED you to be an author. It’s a great job. Keep writing!

Alex: You asked if I was sure that Pickle helps me with my paperwork. Pickle is a very helpful cat, and a big inspiration. She is sitting on my lap as I write this message to you.

Jonas: I’m glad you also like to make books and that you are thinking about becoming a writer. I’m glad you practice writing every day!

William B.: You asked if I gave Pickle her name because her eyes are green. That’s a good guess. I gave her the name Pickle, because when she was a kitten she always managed to get into mischief, or “into a pickle.” I considered naming her Mischief, but the name Pickle seemed like a better fit.

Lark: I’m glad you love my books. As I mentioned to Sophie, you can find them at your favorite library. Maybe you will read them again over the summer?

Rafael: I’m glad you enjoyed when I read my books to you. You can see videos of me reading some of my stories at this website.

Autumn: I’m glad to hear that you want to be an author, too. It sounds like you’ve written quite a few books with some great titles. Squirrel and Acorn sounds especially fun! Way to go!

Lillian: I’m so glad to hear that you are writing books, too. You asked if I have any books other than the ones I showed you. I do have two more books that will be published in 2019. I recently wrote a blog post about the new books I am working on.

Javier: I’m glad you liked when I told you about pretending to be Harriet the Spy. That’s a really good book. Maybe you will get it from the library this summer?

Mason: I loved hearing about how you like to draw and write about Black Panther. You asked about some of my hobbies. I like to read (of course!), listen to music, hike, and travel.

Owen: I’m so glad you like to write stories. You mentioned that you’ve been to Mexico three times. Me too! Maybe you could write a story about Mexico?

Ashlyn: You mentioned that one of your favorite foods is Texas Toast. I’ve never had that before. I just did some research about it and it sounds yummy! I’ll have to try it some day. Maybe you could write down your recipe and share it with your friends or family?

Ben: I’m so glad you love to read and write. You asked if I love ladybugs. I do. There is a picture of a ladybug in my book, SEE THE COLORS. I wonder if you can find it?

Nathaniel: I’m so glad I inspired you to write some new stories. You mentioned that it would be nice if I could give out some of my books. Better than that, I can tell you about the library, where you can borrow my books (and other books as well). I hope you will visit my books at the library this summer!

Gwen: It looks like you were absent when I visited the first time. You can read a blog post about some of the reasons I like to write (which I what I talked about during my first visit).

Thank you again for all of your letters and pictures, and thank you to Ms. Baumgartner for inviting me to visit.  I hope I get to visit your school again in the future. In the meantime, if you’d like to read more about my life as a writer, you can visit this section of my blog where I talk about my writing life.


Have a great summer!

Sincerely,

Dawn Babb Prochovnic (and Pickle)

*****

I'd love to visit your school, too! If you'd like more information about author visits, click here, or send me a message using the contact form to the left.

For more posts about my past author visits and other aspects of the writing life, click here.

June 7, 2018

The "Good News" Part of the Writing Life

Photo Credit: Dawn Prochovnic
Last fall I wrote about reading Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Big Magic, and how reading that book inspired me to re-commit myself not only to the craft of writing, but also to the practice of submitting my work for publication. I promised that I would share when I had my own "Big Magic" news to share. That time is now. I am so thrilled to announce that I have recently signed a TWO-BOOK contract with Graphic Arts Books!

When I shared this news with a non-writing friend, she said, "So what exactly does that mean?"

What it means is that I have TWO NEW PICTURE BOOKS scheduled to be published and arrive in books stores October, 2019. 

What are the (planned) titles you say? I'm so glad you asked:

WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY?

and

WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY?

I cannot tell you how excited I am about these two books. The Pirate book has been percolating for quite a few years. This manuscript brought audible laughter when read aloud at writing conferences (thanks for the encouragement, writing friends!), and it received attention from several editors and agents . . . but it didn't bring a contract offer until this past year. Truth be told, I actually had two different contract offers for my potty books this past year (but that's another story for another time).

The Cowgirl book emerged out of a writing exercise I gave myself after meeting the wonderful folks at Graphic Arts Books during a book event for Oregon Reads Aloud on October 2, 2016. Graphic Arts specializes in regional books, and they have a fair amount of western-y themed books. I decided to try to westernize my Pirate story and out popped a Cowgirl story that I fell in love with. Happily, so did the publishing team at Graphic Arts, and as they say, "the rest is history" (or, history in the making, given that the books are progressing through the editorial process as I write this blog post--also another topic for another time).

You can anticipate regular updates about these books and the creative process related to the making of these books. I'm already thinking about ideas for themed book events and swag. These book events are going to be a hoot-hollerin' good time! (Which reminds me: Apologies in advance to those who interact with me regularly. It seems I'm full of potty humor, and I can't help but take on the rip-roarin' voices of me blimey characters as I interact with real-life folk. I'll try not to overdo it, but I ain't makin' no promises.)

Want to help these books be successful? Here are some things you can do, starting right now:

1. Subscribe to me blog.

2. Share me blog.

3. Leave a comment on me blog offering encouragement, tips for books launches, your favorite book store or library branch, ideas for swag (pirate or cowgirl themed), or even just to say "Howdy, pardner," so I know thar be some readers.

4. Send me a note via email or via the contact form on the left of me blog, if ye want to be on the ground floor of me street team.

5. Mark yer calendar for October 8, 2019 (the current scheduled date for both books to release).

Yee-ha!

April 2, 2018

The Writing Life: Summary Post

Photo Credit: Dawn Prochovnic
Sculpture Artist Unknown 
Over the past few months I've written several posts about the Writing Life. I thought it might be good to summarize those posts here:

The "Good News" Part of the Writing Life

The "Flurry of Ideas" Part of the Writing Life

The "On Submission" Part of the Writing Life

The "Living Life" Part of the Writing Life


I will add to the list as future posts on the topic are written.

Prior to writing this series, I wrote several miscellaneous posts related to different aspects of the Writing Life. I've listed some of those posts here:

My Path to Publication

School Author Visits (June 2018)

School and Library Visits Feed My Creative Soul (July 2017)

School and Library Visits Feed My Creative Soul, Cont. (July 2017)

School Author Visits How I Love Thee (April 2016)

How My Trip to Spain Will Influence My Creative Writing Life

How Hosting an Exchange Student Continues to Feed the Creative In Me

Why Do I Like to Write? (Especially for Kids)

Write on, friends! Write on!


February 13, 2018

The "Flurry of Ideas" Part of the Writing Life

As I predicted in my last post, this space has been quiet for awhile. My social media activity has also been quiet. What HAS NOT been quiet is my imagination. That has been on overdrive, and let me tell you, it's been a heap of fun!

My oldest child went off to college this past fall and something about that transition kicked my creative caboose into high gear. I've been writing, I've been revising, and I've been submitting my work. It feels great!

Image Source: Tara Lazar 
This past month I participated in Tara Lazar's famed StoryStorm challenge. I have hesitated to participate in this event in the past because coming up with story ideas has not typically been an issue for me. The greater challenge for me has been keeping up with my ideas, honoring my ideas by getting them down on paper, and then further honoring my ideas by drafting, revising, polishing, and eventually submitting my stories to publishers.

I sincerely enjoyed the daily StoryStorm blog posts, and I diligently participated in the creative activities shared in each post. I completed the challenge with heaps of new story ideas, a few of which are already starting to materialize into stories with genuine potential. 

StoryStorm was a good match for me this year, and I have to say, it will definitely be an annual tradition going forward. Thanks, Tara Lazar, for coordinating such an excellent creative experience via your blog!

Speaking of blogs, I anticipate my own blog might be quiet for another little stretch of time . . . I have big ideas that are calling for my attention, and I need to give them the respect they are due.

So, dear readers, while you're waiting for my next post, might I encourage you to visit my summary post page, which is a handy way to access past entries on popular topics in one convenient location. 

Happy Reading, Happy Writing, and Happy Signing! Dawn