March 27, 2024

Birth Stories for Books: THE SEA HIDES A SEAHORSE, by Sara T. Behrman

Hello, readers! Today's Birth Stories for Books interview is extra special. Our guest is my longtime critique partner, friend, and now DEBUT PICTURE BOOK AUTHOR, Sara T. Behrman. Whoo-hoo! I previously introduced Sara's book here, and today we'll take a deep dive into Sara's path to publication experience for her beautiful new picture book, THE SEA HIDES A SEAHORSE (illustrated by Melanie Mikecz, published by The Collective Book Studio, April 2024).

by Sara T. Behrman and Melanie Mikecz

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Sara. As your longtime critique partner, I am SO EXCITED to interview you about the path to publication for your debut picture book, THE SEA HIDES A SEAHORSE.

Although I've had the pleasure of reading various iterations of this beautiful book during critique group sessions, I must say I don't recall the inspiration that sparked the idea for you, or the process and timeframe between your initial idea for the book and the story that was formulated enough to submit to an editor. Can you refresh my memory on this?

Sara T. Behrman: The inspiration for this story came from a visit to Australia, the second stop on a yearlong world traveling adventure. We spent three months traveling around this beautiful country, observing animals we’d never seen before. When I saw my very first seahorse at the Sydney Aquarium, I was hooked! I’d thought seahorses were imaginary creatures, like sea monkeys and unicorns. I wanted to learn more, and as I researched these amazing animals, I wanted to share what I’d learned with others. 

Starting in 2007, I tried writing my story in a variety of genres —first as a nonfiction picture book, then as an easy reader and chapter book. Nothing worked as well as I’d hoped with what I first called Papa Seahorse, then Salty the Seahorse. Then, in 2013, I had a breakthrough. My book group (we called ourselves the No. 1 Ladies Book Discussion Group) read Just Kids by Patti Smith. As I read about the life of this poet-songwriter, I wondered what my seahorse story might be if written as song lyrics. That approach led me to multiple rounds of very helpful feedback from my critique group, which in turn resulted in the final version I first began submitting to publishers in 2019 and sold in 2021.

DP: I am so glad I asked that question, because I had forgotten many of those twists and turns! 

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything in particular that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

SB: My earliest notes from 2007 to myself: “Use rhyme and cadence to convey life in the sea and to emulate the constant motion of these animals.” So, why didn’t I follow my own advice for years? Why did I have “papa seahorse” talk to other characters? My finished version most resembles my early nonfiction picture book manuscripts because my interest in the changing colors, behaviors, and habitats of seahorses remains front and center.

DP: Ah, yes, the ole, "notes to self" that somehow get carried away by a current for a time. I think we all have those! So glad you found your way back to what interested you in the story in the first place. 

Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for this particular story to find its way to publication? 

SB: When I examine the timeframe between having a polished manuscript ready to submit (2013) and actually beginning the time-consuming process of researching publishers, preparing book proposal forms, and submitting the manuscript for consideration (2019), it’s clear my journey was a long and winding road. Despite working as a full-time grants consultant who dealt with submission deadlines on a daily basis, I just couldn’t seem to apply the same sense of urgency to my own creative submissions. Ultimately, it took the COVID pandemic to help me realize I had to reduce my client portfolio and make my creative writing and submission process a priority. I submitted The Sea Hides A Seahorse to West Margin Press in June 2020 and they acquired it a year later.

DP: Yes, we were ALMOST publishing house siblings! 

But alas, you experienced some unique bumps along your path to publication related to changes at the original acquiring publisher, West Margin Press. Can you share any valuable learnings from that experience that might be of help and interest to our readers?

SB: Initially slated for release in April 2023, The Sea Hides A Seahorse was entering its final production phase when West Margin Press was bought by Turner Publishing Company in October 2022. Suddenly I knew how a seahorse felt when experiencing rough seas! I clung to my optimism when I was told in November that Turner had opted not to acquire a number of picture books in production, including mine. Jen Newens (West Margin Press publisher) reassured me that she and Ingram Content Group (the distributor) were committed to finding a new home for the book. But then the entire West Margin Press team lost their jobs, and Ingram terminated my book contact in February 2023. Just three months shy of what would have been my book’s birthday, I wanted to throw a pity party! 

However, I decided feeling sorry for myself interfered with my creative process and I focused instead on the new stories that were bubbling up inside me. I also reached out to my former West Margin Press team – my editor, Michelle McCann (McCann Kids Books), and my former publisher, Jen Newens, to thank them again and ask if they had any leads I could pursue. Michelle kindly submitted my “production-ready” manuscript with some others orphaned by the Turner acquisition to a publisher, who declined all of us. So, in March, Jen pitched my book to my current publisher, The Collective Book Studio, who loved it so much they immediately acquired it!    

DP: I'm SO GLAD you were able to shift from planning a pity party to planning your book launch party! (NOTE to readers: Sara has several book events coming up, including a storytime at Powell's City of Books on Saturday, April 13, 2024 at 10:30 AM, and a book launch party at Green Bean Books on Sunday, April 21, 2024 at 2pm. Join in if you can!)

Image provided by Sara T. Behrman

DP: As I understand it, The Collective Book Studio is a hybrid publisher whose books are distributed by Simon and Schuster. Can you share with us a little bit about your experience working with a hybrid publisher, and how that might be similar/different to publishing with a traditional publisher?

SB: Since I haven’t experienced the entire publishing process with either a traditional publisher (West Margin Press) or a hybrid publisher (The Collective Book Studio), I don’t know that I can really describe how the experience might be similar or different. What I can say is that I loved working with the folks at West Margin Press, and I love working with the folks at The Collective Book Studio. My book wasn’t acquired by The Collective Book Studio in the usual way, and I was able to keep my advance from West Margin Press because Ingram terminated the book contract. The production process was accelerated because the book had already gone through the final editorial and artwork process. Planned for release in June 2024 (about 15 months after acquisition), The Sea Hides A Seahorse will now be released on April 2, 2024. The book contract for both types of publishers is similar, but authors retain many more of the rights typically reserved by traditional publishers, and the royalties are much higher with a hybrid publisher because the author contributes a portion of the production costs up front. These are called “creative fees” and I was able to use my author advance from my traditional publisher to make a substantial downpayment on my share of the creative fees. Since I’ve only experienced the marketing process working with a hybrid publisher, I can say that they are willing to handle a large chunk of the promotional work, and will work with you to prepare a reasonable marketing budget that is shared by the publisher and author.

DP: That's great to hear, Sara. 

When you compare your creative process for writing children’s books to your creative process as a longtime professional grant writer, what are some of the key similarities and differences? 

SB: My creative process for writing children’s books is completely different from my professional grant writing experience. Writing for children requires me to use my imagination and unique voice when telling a story; grant writing requires me to mimic my client’s voice and marshal facts in a logical, sequential way to write a persuasive grant proposal. It might take me years to write a 500-word picture book, while I can write an 80-page grant proposal in a week. I work on scores of drafts for stories, but rarely prepare more than one draft of a grant proposal before sharing it with a client for final review. Children’s manuscripts are always double-spaced, but grant applications might be double or single-spaced, depending on the funder. 

There are some similarities: comprehensive research is required to assure all details are accurate and consistent, whether world-building or application writing. In children’s books, there are rules to follow about word count limits for specific genres, while grant applications often limit the number of characters you can use, including spaces! You have to know your audience in both processes. You have to respond well to editorial comments, while protecting critical writing elements. Lastly, you cannot take rejection personally. (I find calling this step ‘a decline’ is less traumatic than using the word ‘rejection.’) 

DP: Thanks for all of the informative pro tips, Sara. 

Speaking of which, one of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips in this regard. Given your experience as a popular presenter at the Oregon Writing Festival, longtime book talker, and former professional librarian, what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful (in-person and/or remote) book events? 

SB: Like you, I love connecting with young readers wherever they are. I like being around children; I like their energy, curiosity, authenticity, and openness. I know children respond to the same traits in adults, so I try to be my most energetic, curious, most authentic, and open self when interacting with them. I tell funny stories about myself and share the world travel adventures I’ve had. I want to hear their questions and I want to answer their questions honestly. When I engage with young readers, it’s really all about them. Whether I’m doing a classroom-based writing residency, or a one-day writing workshop, I always remind them that “they are the boss of their story.” (Kids love being in charge!) My stories, whether published or as adventures retold the top of my head, just facilitate our conversations as we connect. 

Advance planning is key. Bookstores and libraries need about 4 to 5 months of lead time to plan an event, and special venues (e.g., aquariums) need at least 6 months. When pitching your event, be sure to talk about how your event advances the venue’s mission and will benefit its target audience. Since I didn’t know a lot about marketing and promotions, I took advantage of the free webinars offered by The Author’s Guild and learned a lot.

DP: Great advice, Sara. Thanks! 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

SB: Dear Pre-Published Self,

Did you really think your stories would be published without having to invest at least five hours every week in a well-researched agent/editor submissions process? Did you think your creative responsibilities ended after a few years of writing, rewriting, and polishing a story? Think again, little monkey. Getting a children’s book published is a lot harder than pitching and publishing feature articles for adults. There are so many gatekeepers standing between you and the young readers you want to reach. There’s no easy path to publication; no one is going to discover your manuscript on a restaurant table, and then become so smitten by your talent they’ll want to sign a book contract to publish your next 10 manuscripts.

So, if you really want the stories that only you can write to find a publishing home, you’ve got to submit them when they are as ready as they can be. You’ll also have to organize your submissions process, keeping track of submission dates, editors/agents, and titles of manuscripts. Then, if you are really lucky, one day you will have an agent to help you with the part of publishing that doesn’t feed your creative soul.

Don’t despair. 

Warmly,

Your Much (MUCH) Older Published Self

P.S. Remember when you couldn’t wait to be old enough to escape your childhood home, but time passed SO slowly? “Publication time” passes at a similar glacial pace.

Image provided by Sara T. Behrman

DP: What a wonderful, encouraging letter to your younger you, Sara! 

Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for THE SEA HIDES A SEAHORSE, that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

SB: I wish someone would ask me about my finger puppets. I have about 50 of them positioned around my home office. I recently organized them according to their preferred habitat; all of my marine finger puppets are grouped together on one stand. How did having finger puppets help me on my path to publication, you ask? Well, finger puppets are great when practicing dialogue aloud. Since writing is a solitary activity, I can talk to my finger puppets when I get lonely or need to let off steam. Finally, there’s nothing like looking into their tiny faces when my imagination needs a boost.

Image provided by Sara T. Behrman

DP: Love it! (and I see some of your finger puppets in the background of this photo!)

Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on? 

SB: I’m currently working on a bunch of very different creative projects. I’ve been revising what I call my “Moishe Pupik” collection of stories, all of which transform well-known tales into a celebration of Yiddish culture and traditional Jewish food. My agent also suggested I consider crafting another piece to complement The Sea Hides A Seahorse, so I’ve written two: The Sea Hides a Sea Star, and The Sea Hides a Sea Slug. Lastly, I’m hoping to workshop my children’s musical, Zombie Rodent, starring an undead squirrel named Flatty, within the next year or so. 

DP: Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for THE SEA HIDES A SEAHORSE with us, Sara! I can't wait to hear more good news on the way for these other projects, as well.

Dear readers, you've heard me say it before: the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. THE SEA HIDES A SEAHORSE is available for pre-order everywhere books are borrowed and sold, including your own local, indie bookstore

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Sara T. Behrman is a children’s book author, technical writer, and former librarian. She loves to travel and, like seahorses, has found her way to all five of the world’s oceans: Arctic; Southern; Indian; Atlantic; and Pacific Ocean. Sara now lives in Portland, Oregon, which is about 80 miles from the Pacific Ocean. 


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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, the 2023 Walt Morey Award winner, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com

March 14, 2024

Birth Stories for Books: THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW, by Sue Heavenrich

Hello readers! I'm delighted to welcome author, Sue Heavenrich, to the blog. Sue and I first met when we were in a book launch group together a few years back. It's been exciting to see her continue to welcome new books into the world. Today we'll learn about Sue's path to publication for her latest picture book, THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW (illustrated by Chamisa Kellog, Sleeping Bear Press, August 2023). 

by Sue Heavenrich and Chamisa Kellog

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Sue. I'm looking forward to learning more about your latest book, THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW

You've shared in other interviews that the line, "This is the seed that Molly sowed" got planted in your head and wouldn't leave until you wrote it down, and that was the seed from which this story eventually grew. You've also shared in another interview that an earlier version of this story sat in a drawer for about three years before your agent encouraged you to revise it. I'd like to hear more about how this story tucked away in a drawer caught your agent's attention, and also about the process and timeframe between your agent's nudge to revise and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to your eventual publisher.

Sue Heavenrich: We were having a conversation one day, and my agent asked: hey, do you have any stories hanging out in the back of your file drawer? THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW was one of those, so I dusted off the folder and read it over. I emailed it to her, and she asked whether I might want to start with the seed (originally I started with the pumpkin). It seems like a no-brainer now, but just changing that one thing made a big difference. I had to rethink word order and find new rhyming words … a challenge, but also the sort of fun a writer relishes.  

DP: That's a wonderful behind-the-scenes detail, Sue. It's so true that the right question, or observation, or suggestion can make all the difference in the world. 

Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, in addition to what you've already shared, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for this particular story to find its way to publication? 

SH: Finding the right editor for a story is a skill, and I was grateful to have an agent who knew editors who might resonate with my story. She sent it out in February, and by mid-March we had interest.

DP: Wow, that's fantastic, Sue. I'm not surprised. It's a great story.

When you compare your path to publication for THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW to your experience with one of your earlier books, such as 13 WAYS TO EAT A FLY, what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each and/or the similarities and differences between the editors/publishers that you've worked with on these books?

SH: I didn’t have an agent when I submitted 13 WAYS TO EAT A FLY. I had met the editor (Alyssa Mito Pusey at Charlesbridge) at a retreat where she expressed interest in the story. When I submitted it to her, she liked it but something just didn’t click. She invited me to revise and resubmit. That revision process took me three years as I looked for a way to make the original manuscript less “listy” and more fun. I am so thankful that Alyssa was willing to take another look, because we had a good time making that book. I learned so much about the teamwork of publishing with that book.

My experience with each publishing house has been different – but one thing has remained the same: creating a book is a team effort. The editors, art director, illustrator, publicist … everyone works together to make the vision become a printed reality. 

DP: Well said, Sue! That's been my experience as well.

You have excellent activity guides for your books that incorporate a variety of different learning extensions and curriculum tie in's, including math tie-in's (perfect for Pi Day, arguably one of the math-iest day of the year!) I'd be interested hearing how your creative process for writing children’s books compares to your creative process for writing supporting materials such as activity guides. What are some of the key similarities and differences? 

SH: Thank you. I’m glad you like them. The teaching guides grew out of my experiences as a classroom teacher and homeschooling parent. I was always looking for hands-on ways to explore the material in a book. That might have grown out of my own school experiences as a visual-tactile learner with a dash of neurodiversity.

I started sharing hands-on STEM activities on my blog. My goal was to create a resource for homeschoolers and teachers who might be seeking a fun way to integrate science into their day. Activity guides seem like an extension of that. Developing an activity guide for a book turns out to be every bit as creative as writing the book. Plus it gives me a great excuse to do experiments. My goals are to include activities that connect across the curriculum. I look for ways kids – and teachers – can reuse stuff they might find around the house (or in a recycling bin) and try to include nature activities that can be done in your neighborhood. 

Photo of pumpkin getting ready to cook, supplied by Sue Heavenrich

Photo of seeds germinating, supplied by Sue Heavenrich

SH: Since we’re celebrating Pi Day, I need to make a confession: I am not a math person. I had lots of problems with math as a kid – memorizing math facts was not my strength. Thankfully, I finally made it to geometry and algebra, and they made sense. My kids inherited their “smarty math” genes from their dad (who was a math teacher, one in a family of math teachers…) and I had another chance to learn math when I homeschooled. I love celebrating Pi Day because: Pie! I mean, how can you not like math with a delicious connection? 

DP: Agreed! I hope our readers will check out the activity guides on your website as soon as they finish reading this interview, Sue. It's packed with Pi Day and other STEM/STEAM activities.

On a related note, in addition to writing books for kids, you are an active blogger, hosting your own STEM/STEAM focused blog, https://archimedesnotebook.blogspot.com/ and a contributor to GROG blog. How do you balance and manage your time between these competing calls to write?

SH: Balance – that’s the thing, isn’t it? I love writing book reviews for my blog and my Wednesday “explore outdoors” features (I think of them as 5-minute nature field trips). And I love contributing to the GROG blog. Over the years I’ve tried different things – adding a Monday author interview feature to my blog, for example – but discovered that I need to keep it simple. Also, when things feel like they’re piling up, I take a break. Some years I take July off from my blog. This winter I took mid-December to mid-January off, so I could work on a project. 

DP: I love the idea of 5-minute nature field trips! (And it sounds like you've developed some good techniques to find balance amongst your various creative endeavors.)

Before we leave the topic of resources, I also see that THE PIE THAT MOLLY BUILT was featured for a Fall Storytime with the National Head Start Association. How did that come to be?

SH: I have no idea! It was a complete surprise, and I am so happy they found my book perfect for their program.

DP: What a happy surprise! It's a great feature! 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

SH: Write what you are passionate about. Do it because you love it. PLAY! And when you no longer take joy in your writing, take a break. Do something else that feeds your creative soul. Also, go outside every day and look for beauty in the world: a sunset, a birdsong, the smell of leaves in the fall...

Author Sue Heavenrich with a Stack of THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW books

DP: That is wonderful advice, Sue--and it's very apparent in your books and supplementary resources that you do indeed focus on things you are passionate about. Brava!

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW with us, Sue! 

Readers, the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. Sue's books, such as THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW, are available everywhere books are borrowed and sold, including bookshop and your own local, indie bookstore. 

SH: Thank you for inviting me to join you today. Shall we share a piece of Pi? 

DP: Ha-ha! I'd love to! Happy Pi Day, friends!

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Author, Sue Heavenrich 
Sue Heavenrich is a curious naturalist and is continually amazed by the diversity of insects and other wild things that visit her garden and hang out in her yard. She followed ants in the desert, tagged bumble bees in the Rockies, and taught science to high-schoolers. After covering environmental and community issues for local papers for a couple decades, Sue traded her reporter’s notebooks for composition books and began writing for children. When not writing, she counts pollinators as a community science volunteer. Every day she looks for beauty in the world around her. 

Website: https://www.sueheavenrich.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SueHeavenrichWriter

Blog: https://archimedesnotebook.blogspot.com/

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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is a nature enthusiast and award-winning author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.  

March 5, 2024

Birth Stories for Books: The Joy of Imperfect Love, by Carla Marie Manly, PHD

One of the big bonuses of being a children's book author is getting to know other members of the book-writing community and their books. As a result of my affiliation with Familius, the publisher of my next scheduled book, I've learned about THE JOY OF IMPERFECT LOVE: The Art of Creating Healthy, Securely Attached Relationships, by Carla Marie Manly, PHD (Familius, March 2024).

by Carla Marie Manly, PHD

I recently received an advanced reader copy of this book, and although I haven't finished reading it yet, I didn't want to wait any longer to share it with you. It's the kind of the book that's packed to the brim with valuable information that's meant to be read and re-read, contemplated and considered, pondered and practiced. 

A few days ago I was chatting with a different author friend of mine about some of the less pleasant aspects of the publishing industry, including some past experiences and interactions that have been hurtful and damaging to my tender heart. Dr. Manly's book, although more specifically directed at helping readers develop healthier loving relationships, is rooted in the importance of loving one's imperfect self. It's a perfect book to read and consider for those of us navigating the book-publishing world, and the imperfect path to publication. 

And with that, I will turn it over to Dr. Carla Marie Manly, for a different sort of Birth Stories for Books guest post. Instead of sharing with us how this particular book (Dr. Manly's fourth) came to be, Dr. Manly shares with us some of the key concepts in her book, helping each of us journey forward in love, as we bring our imperfect selves to the page day after day after day, in search of our own Birth Stories for Books. 

6 GEMS OF IMPERFECT LOVE
by Carla Marie Manly, PhD

Love—and life—are messy! In a world that focuses on perfection, the concept of imperfect love is the antidote our souls need.  Imperfect love allows us to grow and shift for the better by releasing unconscious programming from the past. As we become more self-aware, we can consciously release negative habits and embrace those that bring joy and lasting love. Unlike the myth of perfect, fairytale love, genuine love doesn’t “just happen”; it takes ongoing effort.  When we put our energy into loving well (if imperfectly), we foster the emotional connection we crave. 

As a clinical psychologist, I’ve found that our overall well-being is deeply affected by the love we experience.  If you are feeling stuck, I invite you to embrace a few of the core concepts of imperfect love to begin your journey into self-discovery, connection, and genuinely loving relationships. 

#1—LOVE IS LEARNED: If you didn’t experience unconditional—albeit imperfect—love as a child, healthy love may not be natural for you. We experience love through the love that was modeled for us. We first come to know love by being loved, then by learning to love in return. For better or worse, we are—unless we create a shift—the products of our formative love experiences.  If you find yourself getting stuck in blame or shame, use your energy to create positive change. 

#2—THE IMPERFECT SELF: Knowing and loving yourself from the inside is the key to imperfect love. Self-awareness fosters self-love; as you appreciate who you are as an individual, the pressure to conform evaporates. By embracing your individuality, your self-esteem blossoms. From this centered place of empowered self-awareness, your imperfect self feels seen and accepted. Allow yourself to practice honoring—rather than rejecting—your imperfections. 

#3—SELF-LOVE: Self-love isn’t a given; it is grown on a strong foundation of compassion and self-esteem. Self-love is an equalizer and is available to anyone who fosters positive acceptance and change. Your self-love will grow as you work to hone your strengths and shore up—and accept--your imperfections. Strive to spend a bit of time every day nonjudgmentally noticing thoughts that hold you back from loving yourself well. 

#4—LOVE EVOLVES:  As you embrace your imperfect self, you’ll discover that imperfect love is not a goal but an evolutionary journey that involves five gifts—your feelings, thoughts, mindsets, energy, and actions. As you intentionally use the imperfect interplay of these five gifts, you will feel more secure, aware, and empowered in all of your relationships.  Gently practice noticing and honoring your various emotions as they arise; give them space to be present without judgment. 

#5—FRIENDSHIP: Healthy relationships are built on the seven pillars of true friendship—investment, respect, honesty, kindness, compassion, wise acceptance, and shared vulnerabilities. When mutually fostered, these pillars create profound trust and safety. Healthy relationships don’t expect perfection; they ask for conscientious, devoted efforts that create imperfect, authentic love.  Pause to notice the people in your life who consistently offer the seven pillars of true friendship.  

#6—COMMUNICATION: We experience the bonding power of listening and being heard when we dismantle our defenses and dive into heartfelt, connective communication. And by using the art of healthy conflict, we experience bonding growth. We become more attuned to ourselves and others as we strengthen our communication and conflict resolution skills. In this intentional space, fear recedes as joyful, imperfect love expands.  Allow yourself to notice your helpful and unhelpful communication patterns with various people; embrace the patterns that feel connective to you.

As we discover and embrace the secrets to healthy love for ourselves and others, our lives begin to change.  The journey of imperfect love allows you to find—and embrace—the healthy love you crave and deserve.  There is no better time than now to bring healthy, genuine love into your world. 

The concepts in this article are based on Dr. Carla Marie Manly’s fourth book, The Joy of Imperfect Love


Dr. Carla Marie Manly—clinical psychologist, Imperfect Love podcaster, and author—is based in Sonoma County, California. In addition to her clinical practice focusing on relationships and personal transformation, Dr. Manly is deeply invested in her roles as a consultant and speaker. With a refreshingly direct and honest approach—plus a dose of humor—Dr. Manly enjoys supporting others in the ever-evolving journey of life.  Her novel self-development paradigm builds resilience, emotional intelligence, and self-esteem. Highlighting the importance of loving connection, her work also focuses on helping others create deeply connected and satisfying intimate relationships. Working from a transformative model that honors the body-mind-spirit connection, Dr. Manly offers holistic relationship and wellness seminars around the world.  Her four captivating books, The Joy of Imperfect Love, Date Smart, Joy from Fear, and Aging Joyfully highlight Dr. Manly’s empowering approach and profound expertise.  Dr. Manly’s expertise is also regularly cited in media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Forbes, Oprah, Newsweek, NBC, HuffPost, Reader’s Digest, Psychology Today, Parade, GQ, Women’s Health, Architectural Digest, Men’s Health, and more.  

Thanks so much for sharing THE JOY OF IMPERFECT LOVE with us, Dr. Manly! 

Readers, the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. Dr. Carla Marie Manly's books, such as THE JOY OF IMPERFECT LOVE, are available everywhere books are borrowed and sold, including bookshop, your own local, indie bookstore, and directly from Familius

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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is an award-winning author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.  

February 6, 2024

The WRAD Part of the Writing Life, 2024 Edition

 WRAD 2024 is officially a Wrap! (Well for me at least ... I did my WRAD visits one day early this year!)

World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) is a special literacy event that takes place around the globe on the first Wednesday in February each year. It's hosted by LitWorld, and originally founded by Pam Allyn. For the past several years, author Kate Messner creates a space on her website where teachers and librarians can connect with authors and illustrators who are willing to volunteer to offer free virtual book readings to children around the world. It's one of my favorite book-related events to participate in. 


For the past couple of years, I've used a Sign-Up Genius to help me coordinate my virtual visits. I also now have a Google Form for folks who want to be among the first to find out when the scheduling tool is available for  next year. 

This year I scheduled visits with eight schools. Even with excellent coordination, it's not unusual that one or more of the schools needs to cancel at the last minute due to weather-related school closures or some other scheduling or technical snafu. Also, some schools that hope to meet with me are unable to match their scheduling needs with my available times, and/or my schedule is full by the time they reach out, or there are members of the learning community who were absent on World Read Aloud Day. 

For these schools (and now for you!) I compile some of my best resources as a stand-in for a real-time virtual author visit. These resources are of course not quite the same as real-time virtual visit, (or a full-length, personalized author visit), but they do allow young readers to connect with an author in some fashion, in honor of World Read Aloud Day. Please feel welcome to explore and share these resources with your learning community: 

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Here is a link to a “Hello” slide deck that I shared with the schools/classrooms that I visited.

It’s not the same as a real virtual visit, but it will allow your students to connect with me for World Read Aloud Day in some fashion. (The “speaker notes” below each slide provide my general talking points and related resource links.) 



Speaking of resources, here is the link to the plethora of Resources tab on my website.

From this landing page, you can access things like: 

1. My YouTube channel with full readings of several of my books including Lucy’s Blooms,  Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and First Day Jitters from the collection of stories in Oregon Reads Aloud. This is where you will also find animated book trailers and companion songs for my three most recent books, as well as some ASL interpreted readings for Lucy’s Blooms and the companion song

2. Curriculum-Aligned Educators’ Guides for Lucy’s BloomsWhere Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (All three of the guides include STEM tie-ins, and for my Pirate and Cowgirl books, these guides include Readers' Theatre scripts.)

3. Lesson Plans for Sign Language Story Timesthemed enrichment activities, and fun extras such as Pirate and Cowgirl Name Generators. 

I also have a couple of different “virtual-virtual,” or “self-guided” author visits via Google Slides that you/your students can peruse (the “speaker notes” below each slide provides the talking points I would typically deliver during a school visit): 

Write On! Why Writing is (Possibly) the Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Do


From "Ahoy, Matey! to “Howdy, Pardner!” How to Create Vivid Characters by Giving Each a Unique Voice

Please reach out to me directly and I would be more than happy to provide links to these virtual visits. 

Once a school or classroom has interacted with one of my books, (via the video story times, and/or virtual workshops on Google Slides on your own), I would be more than happy to respond to written questions from students. How this typically works is that the librarian or classroom teacher assigns a “post visit” writing lesson for the students where they each ask me a question (about my books, or my writing process, or my “office assistant, Pickle, etc.), and then you would deliver the full set of questions to me via postal mail or email (in one batched email from you vs. individual emails from students). After I receive the questions, I will reply to the students with a compilation response that I will deliver to you. Here is a link to some examples of my responses from my interactions with other schools. 

I hope these options are helpful resources. Please feel welcome and encouraged to share them with your families and your colleagues, and please let me know if I can be a resource to you in any other way.

Warm wishes,

Dawn

Author Dawn Babb Prochovnic holding her three latest books

Reach out via email, social media channels such as Instagram, BlueskyTwitter/X, or my Facebook fan page, or through my contact form (at the left of this post on the desktop version), if you'd like to schedule a time for me to meet with your students in the future! 

For more posts like this, visit The Writing Life series on my blog.

January 13, 2024

The Storystorm Challenge Part of the Writing Life

One of my favorite and most productive creative rituals is participating in author Tara Lazar's annual Storystorm challenge, a 31-day, online brainstorming event. This year I had the opportunity to be one of the guest bloggers (on Day #6 to be precise). My post is about repurposing party favors and piƱata toys as inspiration for your creative writing practice. You can read the full post here.  

Hosted by Tara Lazar, Art by Courtney Pippen-Mathur

It was such a wonderful feeling to be able to give back to a creative community that has inspired me for many years. And if YOU find storystorm helpful for boosting your creativity and generating ideas (and l assure you, you will!), I encourage you to show your support for the host, Tara Lazar, by purchasing one or more of her books. (If you can't possibly add another book to your bookshelf, you can always purchase a book as a gift for a local teacher or a child in need, or you can check out a copy of one of Tara's books at your local library.)

Something that really stood out for me via the experience of participating in storystorm as a guest blogger is realizing that sometimes I forget to put the best tools in my creative toolbox to use in my own creative writing practice--including some of the tools I'm familiar enough with and enthusiastic enough about to incorporate into my writing workshops, author visits, and encouraging blog posts! 

I love the writing exercise I wrote about in my storystorm guest post, and I've seen many good ideas come from it, both for my own work, and for the participants of various writing workshops I've facilitated for all ages and stages over the years. Even so, sometimes this activity is not top of mind when my mind feels like creative mush, (which, coincidentally, is when I typically most need a creative kick-in-the-pants). 

I've come to realize that writing this post was as much for me as it was for the other writers I intended to share it with. The act of drafting and polishing the blog post helped act as a reminder of how useful the exercise can be for me, and  re-reading the post when it was published to Tara's blog got me even more jazzed up about it. It was as if the writing workshop presenter me was directly speaking to the creative writer me

Although it feels a bit strange to admit that I occasionally need to be reminded to heed my own writing advice, what totally blew me away was how much inspiration I got from just reading the comments on the post. Some commenters offered additional resources that aligned with my exercise, and several commenters offered new and fresh variations on my exercise, which generated SEVERAL new story ideas for my own Storystorm idea file, plus new ideas for my future writing workshops and author visits. How cool is that? 

It was another example of give a little, gain a lot (something I recently mentioned experiencing by virtue of following/commenting on a social media post from esteemed literary agent Carly Watters' Instagram account.)


Image Source: https://www.instagram.com/the_shit_about_writing/  
https://www.instagram.com/p/C1kMLfRLoRa/


Image Source: https://www.instagram.com/the_shit_about_writing/  
https://www.instagram.com/p/C1mwlymLHIf/

Bonus Tip: If you're not already following Carly's IG account, you should--it's overflowing with helpful, actionable industry info.

But I digress ...

Back to the topic at hand, here is a sampling of some of the variations, additional resources, and idea-stimulating comments shared on my Storystorm post: (Note: I've not provided attributions, as the blog platform's user names aren't necessarily real names, but you can directly access the post and comments here if you'd like to follow-up more comprehensively regarding specific sources on your own.): 

Some of the objects people used for this exercise include: a rock, a collection of Wordle words, and vintage postcards.

Someone googled "vintage toys" and used the images that came up via the search as their "object."

One commenter referred to her cat who happened to be on her lap as she wrote.  

Several people gave inspiring labels for the objects used in the exercise such as, "literary treasures" and "idea generators." Someone said, "My house is filled with objects for inspiration."

Someone did a similar exercise at an assisted living facility, helping the elderly residents use "words from their memories and tactile sensations to write free-verse 'poetry'" then compiled the results into a booklet.

Someone mentioned the exercise would be a great rainy day activity for parent/grandparent and child to do together. One person mentioned that she and her grandchild would do the activity together via WhatApp.


Someone mentioned Rob Walker and the literary experiment chronicled in the book, Significant Objects. (Rob Walker also has a book that I found called, The Art of Noticing.)
 
And, I learned from one commenter that my little glass bird is a Bluebird of Happiness, lovingly made in Arkansas (and I received comments from MANY other people who have special associations with their own little glass Bluebird of Happiness.  

Image of Lucy's Blooms picture book and Dawn's little glass bird aka, Bluebird of Happiness

Thank you once again to author Tara Lazar, for the opportunity to participate in Storystorm 2024 as a guest blogger. I'll continue to participate as a writer for the rest of the month. I'm well along my way to 30 ideas. Storystorm continues to blow my mind! 

January 11, 2024

Birth Stories for Books: THE MESS MONSTER, by Jessica Marie

Welcome to the New Year dear readers, and welcome to another round of Birth Stories for Books interviews and guest posts. Today's guest, Jessica Marie, shares her experience self-publishing her debut picture book, THE MESS MONSTER, which came out in October of 2023 (illustrated by Nicholas Child). 

by Jessica Marie and Nicholas Child

Dawn Prochovnic: So glad to have you on the blog, Jessica, and I’m really looking forward to learning more about your debut picture book, THE MESS MONSTER.

Reading your bio, it sounds like this story might stem from personal experience. Can you share some details about how the idea came to be and what motivated you to move the idea forward to fruition?

Jessica Marie: It actually stemmed from an experience I had in middle school. We were assigned by our English teacher to write a story associated with a picture we had drawn. I drew a monster that was hidden beneath the bleachers. The story was more of a horror story, but the monster shined through in this book. I also am always motivated by my very active and messy daughter, who gets the messiness from her mom. However, the story of the Mess Monster was inspired by my daughter losing her soccer cleats. This story grew into a mother-daughter story with the messiness added to it.

Photo provided by Jessica Marie

DP: Very fun! 

Can you share with us the process and timeframe between your initial idea and the story that was formulated fully enough to produce as an independently-published book?

JM: The story was formulated enough within 6 months. I got sick of waiting for a publisher or agent, so I took matters into my own hands and self-published my manuscript.

DP: There is definitely a lot of waiting (and waiting...and waiting...) involved in the traditional publishing world! It sounds like you discovered a path that was a better fit for you. 

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything in particular that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

 JM: It was actually created as a monster that lived in the basement. It didn’t have the elements it does today. There was no messiness or family element to the story.

DP: Oh wow. It sounds like the manuscript changed a lot over time.

Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, are there any individuals, experiences, or opportunities that you credit with opening the door for you to bring this story to publication?

JM: My editor, Kathy MacMillan. She walked me through the publishing process and the art of book creation.

DP: Kathy MacMillan is wonderful! She and I got to know each other because of our mutual interest in American Sign Language. We've been championing each others' work for a couple of decades now! 

How did you and she connect with each other, and can you share how the editorial process worked?

JM: I found her through SCBWI. I am so grateful for this connection. I watched some of her presentations and reached out to her. I now work with her on a weekly basis with all of my manuscripts. It’s been a real blessing.

DP: It sounds like you and Kathy have a fantastic working relationship.

I’m also interested in hearing how you went about the process of connecting with the illustrator for this project, Nicholas Child.

JM: The illustrator was tricky. I was at the end of my rope and stumbled upon the website Reedsy. There you can view illustrations and illustrators and choose one. I was connected to the illustrator who illustrated my books, Finding my ROAR! and The Mess Monster. However, I have since changed my illustrator and she will be working on my new books.

DP: In addition to Reedsy, were there any specific resources you utilized (for example, software, reference books, online classes or tools, etc.) that were most helpful to you along the way?

JM: I did utilize online classes, online tools, and a person who does all of my marketing. I did appreciate the online classes, but my greatest endeavor is working with a marketing person. She is wonderful. She has helped me set up all of my social accounts and is very helpful.

DP: Have you engaged in any book promotion and/or marketing activities that have been especially effective in terms of growing book sales?

JM: I have engaged in book promotions with book conferences and book fairs. Fairs like Oktoberfest and readings at elementary schools have helped with sales. I have also created a Mess Monster lovey to go along with the book. That seems to be helping switch marketing. However, the biggest promotions are in the pre-sales. I have not had the chance to do that with this book.


Photo provided by Jessica Marie


Photo provided by Jessica Marie


DP: Love the lovey! It's so cute! 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier and/or are there any lessons you've learned along the way that could help others who would likewise like to write and independently-publish a children’s book?

JM: It is going to take time, so be patient. I never realized until I was in it just how long it would take. It also comes with many, many rejections, and you cannot take that personally.

DP: I couldn't agree more! 

Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for THE MESS MONSTER that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet?

JM: It brings you immense joy to know that someone loves your book!

DP: That is so very, very true! 

Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on?

JM: This book is a series. Right now, I am finishing up The Love Monster, and The Mess MOMster.

DP: Those sound like super fun titles, Jessica! 

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for THE MESS MONSTER with us. I wish you much success with this project and the new books down the line!



Jessica Marie's Bio: 

I am a children’s book author, but longtime maker of messes.  

I graduated from the University of Kansas with my master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education. I taught Kindergarten for several years in Texas. 

I have 3 dogs and a spectacular 8-year-old daughter. I love to do yoga and spend time outdoors. I live in Kansas City, Kansas.  My favorite color is pink and my favorite food is candy.


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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, the 2023 Walt Morey Award winner, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.  




December 30, 2023

2023 Year-End Post and Holiday Greeting

As I’ve shared in this space before, one of the ways I reflect on the past and make way for the future is through the tradition of preparing and mailing holiday greeting cards. Although fewer and fewer folks send out year-end greetings, I continue to look forward to this annual tradition—both the receiving and displaying of cards, letters, and photos from friends and family and the preparation of my own annual update. 


If you are one of my regular readers, you know by now that each year I begin the process by paging through my (old-style) calendar, making note of the highlights and ordinary happenings in our household. I next look for themes. I approach the task as an exercise in creative expression, aiming to share our family’s news in a way that is reflective of the world events and/or a major aspect of our personal lives. And, while I am acutely aware of deep levels of pain and suffering in our world, I often choose to center my annual reflection closer to home and on more joyful aspects of our lived experience. 

There were some significant milestones for our family this year, including my oldest child moving out of the family home and my youngest child turning 21 and studying abroad in Siena, Italy—wine country. Closer to home, over the course of the year our family listened to live music and enjoyed a myriad of picnics and happy hours over shared bottles of wine. We visited several local wineries, and hosted our beloved 2017 exchange student, (aka our Italian son) and his family for a visit—which, not surprisingly, involved some fine wine. Add to that the glasses that have been emptied with like-minded folks over the past year whilst lamenting about the state of our world and strategizing for the future, and a holiday greeting that incorporated different wine labels seemed the perfect pour for this year: 


This year’s greeting entailed more customized graphics than I have used in the past, which stretched me creatively and gave me an excuse to experiment more fully with online tools such as Canva. It also required me to prioritize what I wanted to communicate and be concise in my wording—also a challenge! This practice will serve me well in other aspects of my creative writing journey

As I designed, refined, and reflected on this year’s update, I was reminded that fine wines tend to get better with age, and similarly, the strongest stories ripen over time. I was also reminded that individuals have different tastes and preferences for wine, just as individual agents, editors, and readers have different tastes and preferences for stories. Some types of wine pair more naturally with certain occasions and/or particular meals, and some stories pair more naturally with certain moments in time and/or particular readers. The quest is for strong pairings. 

As a New Year gets underway, I anticipate there will be times to crack open new and fresh varietals to taste and explore, and there will be times to reach into the cellar for a well-aged vintage, open it, and let it breathe. 
Here’s to a generous pour of Peace, Love, Joy, and Creativity in the New Year. Cheers to you and yours!