October 18, 2018

Birth Stories for Books: MOSTLY THE HONEST TRUTH, by Jody J. Little

Periodically, from now until next October when my two new books come out, I will be running a series of blog posts called "Birth Stories for Books: Posts About Paths to Publication from Published Authors and Illustrators." I'm so happy to welcome Jody J. Little, and her debut novel, MOSTLY THE HONEST TRUTH, as the debut for this series of posts! Jody calls her path to publication a journey of wonder. Here it is:

A Journey of Wonder
by Jody J. Little

Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder. E.B. White

Getting a book published is hard.

Writing is just plain hard.

It’s really a wonder that we do it. The number stats are not on our side.

-I’ve attended 12 SCBWI conferences.
-I’ve worked with 13 amazing critique partners.
-I’ve read 20,290 middle grade novels (made-up number).
-I received 27 agent rejections.
-I wrote the 1st draft of my debut in 2008.
-It was my 2nd full-novel manuscript.
-It was rejected by 23 editors.
-I did 24 full revisions before it sold.
-I’ve cried 4096 times (made up number, probably higher).
-I was 50 years young when I received a first offer from a publishing house!
-I’ll be 52 when it is released on March 12, 2019.

I think wonder is the key to most writers’ journeys.

My wonder began when I was seven years old. I gleefully came home from school and announced that I was going to be an author when I grew up. I held my first story in my hand and showed my mom. It was brilliantly titled, The Nut and the Boy. Each page was lovingly adorned with a crayon-colored illustration. Here’s an exclusive excerpt:

Onse a pon a time ther was a boy. He whet to the store he said to his mom which fish shed I pik. don’t pik a fish pik a nut a nut yes a nut o.k. but nuts make a spot.

This brilliance was followed by many other stories like, Tommy Turtle and Fanny Fish, Me the Dime, Melvin Goes on a Trip, and The Glerp.

By fourth grade, I was writing my first chapter book. It included the characters from the Boxcar Children and was set in the time of Little House on the Prairie. I worked on it every spare moment I had while in school. When my fourth-grade teacher asked if she could read it, I anxiously handed over the forty pages I had written, filled with wonder of what she might say. Would she love it? Would she tell me I was talented? Would she share it with the class? There was little to wonder about when she returned my story. I received a verbal lashing for my spelling, particularly my inability to distinguish long vowels from short vowels, and how with short vowels you must double the final consonant before adding -ed or -ing. That conversation is tearfully vivid in my mind. Clearly, if I couldn’t spell, I couldn’t write.

In looking back, I wonder if this moment instilled a misbelief in me, one that took me years to overcome. I never once thought of pursuing writing as a career. I was a good student, I loved school, and I followed in the footsteps of my parents and became a teacher. I taught middle school for nine years, and then had two wonderful children and decided to stay home. Up until my kids were born, my adult writing life consisted of required college papers, comments on student papers and report cards, emails, grocery lists, and thank you notes.

Being a stay-at-home parent is something I’ve never regretted, and I have fond moments of those years, but it was also isolating at times. I missed the professional world. I missed having a sense of self-purpose. I felt directionless. I started to wonder about writing, so I enrolled in a correspondence course through the Institute of Children’s Literature. During and after the course, I sold a handful of stories and articles to children’s magazines. A second course a few years later, offered me the guidance to write my first full-length children’s novel. I sincerely believe that these courses, along with The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators are responsible for putting me on my path to publication. I attended my first regional SCBWI conference in 2005 and joined an online critique group soon after. I continued to write and submit short stories, articles, and puzzles for magazines, selling a few of them, and all the while dabbling with that first novel.

Then in 2007, I submitted the novel to the Delacorte Contest for First Time Novelists. I didn’t win, but I was a finalist and was assigned an editor to work with on revisions. I was certain this was going to be the trigger for getting my novel published, but after a year, the editor left Delacorte leaving me no contact information and no directions on who to contact. I was crushed. I was certain that this writing business wasn’t meant to be. At least not for me.

Fortunately, my critique group would not allow me to quit. They’ve never allowed me to—not when I returned to teaching—not when my first novel didn’t sell. Never. They became my writing backbone, sending me virtual high-fives and real chocolate when needed. They knew all my stats on rejections, but they didn’t pay any attention to those numbers. They cheered with me when I landed my agent. They encouraged me when my chapters needed work—a lot of work. They are the best, and I never wonder about writing without them.

Published by HarperCollins
Last fall, on September 6, the second day of school, almost nine years after writing the first draft of  Mostly the Honest Truth, my phone rang. I was right in the middle of a math lesson, but when I went to silence my phone and send it to voicemail, I noticed the number was from New York. I checked the voicemail while the students were at recess. It was my agent, telling me to call him back. He said he had good news and bad news. I had forty minutes left in the day before I could call him, and I have no memory of how I made it through those forty minutes. I do recall exactly what he said, though, because I had dreamed of this conversation for years. It remains the best phone call of my life.

Hi Jody! I’ll start with the bad news. You’re no longer an unpublished author. The good news is you just received a two-book offer from HarperCollins!

I still have a long road to travel on my publication journey. Having a two-book deal is all-sorts of stress which I never imagined, but it’s what I’ve dreamed of, too. My books are going to be bound, and sitting on bookshelves, and in the libraries of teachers, and in the hands of young readers.

And I’m still filled with the wonder of what will happen around the corner.

How many more books will I write?

Will my students like my book?

What would my fourth-grade teacher think if she read it?

I’m pretty sure all the spelling is correct.



Thank you, Jody, for such an inspiring story! You've taught us to wonder, and then to persist and persevere to bring the stories we believe in to life. I can't wait to read MOSTLY THE HONEST TRUTH when it comes out next spring! 

********************************
Jody J. Little is a third-grade teacher who loves sharing her joy of books and reading with her students. She lives in the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon with her family and an immortal pet rabbit. MOSTLY THE HONEST TRUTH is her first novel and will be published by Harper in March 2019. It was recently selected by the American Booksellers Association to be included on their Indies Introduce List for Winter/Spring 2019. You can pre-order through multiple vendors at HarperCollins. Visit Jody on Facebook @jodyjlittleauthor or follow her on Twitter @jodyjlittle


September 7, 2018

The Reading Part of the Writing Life

A significant part of my writing day is spent reading. Lots and lots of reading. And making notes about my reading. And pondering how a particular book I'm working on and/or getting ready to submit to publishers is comparable to and different from the books I'm reading.

At this moment I have 65 books checked out from my local library and 29 titles on request (shout out to the wonderful folks at the West Slope Community Library who help me accomplish my reading and writing goals). I will dive into the pile of books in this picture a bit later today. But before I do, I wanted to share some of the books I've read in the past couple of weeks, and how they relate to my forthcoming books.

As I've mentioned before, I have two new books coming out in 2019: Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? Back when I was seeking a publisher for these books, I read a ton of other potty books to help me identify suitable publishers for my project and so I could accurately reference "comps" and "how my books are different than what's already out there" in my query letters/book proposals.

Even though my potty books are now written, acquired, and edited, I still keep an eye out for "comps." In some cases these comps help me think about ways to connect with readers who are interested in #PottyHumor. For example, I'm guessing that readers who like the books in the Dinosaur that Pooped series by @TomFletcher@DougiePoynter, and Garry Parsons/@ICanDrawDinos, such as The Dinosaur That Pooped ChristmasThe Dinosaur That Pooped the Past, and The Dinosaur That Pooped a Princess, which just released today, will also like Where Does a Pirate/Cowgirl Go Potty? and vice versa. Being aware of these books might be useful when I'm interacting with readers at my own book events, and watching how these authors market their books can also inform my own marketing plan. Case in point, today's release was announced as the Pooplication Day, and the new book was referred to by the author as "even more funny/disgusting" than the other books in the series.

I can also learn more about the general subject matter by reading other potty-related books. For example, by reading What Do They Do with All That Poo? (Jane Kurtz and Allison Black, (Beach Lane Books, 2018), I learned that a giraffe has four stomachs and that elephants "can eat 300 pounds of leaves and grasses a day and then dump 165 pounds of poo." Wow! Although neither of those factoids relate directly to my potty books, I'm guessing at some point, I'll have an opportunity to plop that kind of info into one of my book talks (pardon the pun).

I also learn more about other authors and illustrators by doing this research. For example, I had not visited Allison Black's website before writing this blog post. I really connected with her work--it's full of color and positive energy. You should definitely check it out! As I prepped for this post, I discovered that she, too, has a pirate-themed book coming out in 2019. Cool Beans. Another comp to put on my list! And who knows, maybe a new book buddy?

Image from Publisher's Website
The research I recently conducted in prep for submitting a new (not related to potties!) manuscript led me to two very funny books published by Arthur Levine Books: Stick Man and The Princess and the Pony. You can find my Goodreads reviews of both of these books here. Re-reading Stick Man (I first read it years ago when it originally came out), provided me with an excellent point of reference to indicate the type of illustrations I envision for the new project I've just started submitting. The Princess and the Pony book just so happens to be a good comp for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? Plus, it simply gave me a good giggle.

Speaking of a good giggle, Who's in the Loo? by Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds did just that, and led me to discover Jeanne Willis' cowgirl-related book: I Want to Be a Cowgirl. And so the cycle continues.

You might wonder how it is that I manage to write when I'm reading all these books? My question right back to you is: How could I possibly manage to write without reading all these books?

But alas, it's time to shift my attention for the day to the actual writing of a new manuscript. Stay tuned for more posts about my reading list. Next up: Books that incorporate empathy, tolerance and/or resilience.

P.S. Reading comps also inspires new book ideas. To note, I've scribbled down two new ideas in the course of writing post!

August 22, 2018

The Song Writing Part of the Writing Life

Dawn and Sam Then and Now
This past weekend my husband, Sam, and I celebrated 30 years of marriage. Although we don't typically exchange gifts for special occasions (other than small, favorite things, such as molasses cookies, or timely items such as tickets to a live concert or play), I wanted to do something especially memorable for this anniversary.

Since we both enjoy live music, and going to concerts together is our most typical date night activity, I thought it might be fun to commission a song from one of our favorite singer/song writers or bands.

I had read about some musical artists providing this type of commissioned service, and I reached out to one of the singer/songwriters we have followed since early in our marriage. She was keen on the idea of participating in the project and asked me for my thoughts on how we might go about it. I told her it was my understanding that most typically the artist would interview the subject(s) to get some background about our life and relationship, and then would write a song with those details in mind. I mentioned to the artist that I was a children's book writer, and that I wished I had a musical background, because I'd love to write my own song. She encouraged me to write my own lyrics . . . and I took the challenge.

I sat down to write, and the words poured out quickly.

One of the constants of the relationship Sam and I have shared for 33 years (30 of those years in marriage) is travel. We are at our very best together when we are planning a trip, taking a trip, or reminiscing about a trip. Since the early days of our shared life, we have held a savings account dedicated to travel. When we accumulate enough funds in our travel account to pay for major expenses like airline tickets and lodging, and enough vacation time to make a flight worthwhile, we start planning a new trip. We've been to some very amazing places in our shared life, and writing about our travels provided focus and structure for my song.

Here are the lyrics for, Travel in This Life With Me:

*****

Our story starts when I was eighteen.
You worked for my dad. We kept the place clean. 
Then I moved on to the retail scene. 

Travel in this life with me.

Holding hands and getting caught.
In ’88 we tied the knot. 
We’ve had it good. We’ve loved a lot.

Travel in this life with me.

Said I do, and dropped the mic.
Near that place we used to hike.
You’re the one I love and like.

Travel in this life with me.

New beginnings. Life as one.
Honeymoon in sand and sun.
Port to port. Just havin' fun.

Travel in this life with me.

Work and college to attend.
Eatin' takeout with our friends. 
Seinfeld humor never ends.

Travel in this life with me.

Weekend trips to camp and ski.
Costa Rica, ninety three.
We were young, and we were free. 

Travel in this life with me.

Easter candles lit in Crete.
Santorini's cobbled streets.
Fresh adventures at our feet. 

Travel in this life with me.

Oh Manado, how we cried. 
Scuba diving. Almost died.
Would the ocean steal your bride?

Travel in this life with me.

Parenthood in ninety nine.
Love those kids of yours and mine.
We’ll survive it sippin’ wine. 

Travel in this life with me.

Dinner table, six o’clock.
Share our day then take a walk.
You will listen, I will talk.

Travel in this life with me. 

Ferry boats and hockey rinks.
Royal Scott and gear that stinks.
Makin’ love and makin’ drinks.

Travel in this life with me.

Pack the van and load some tunes.
Sweet Sunriver, be there soon.
Breathe the pines and chase the moon.

Travel in this life with me.

Reminiscing: Minibus.
Fly to Greece, the four of us.
Memories make it worth the fuss.

Travel in this life with me. 

Little league and basketball.
Parent-teacher conference call.
Off to college in the fall.

Travel in this life with me 

We’ve been married thirty years.
Sharing hopes and dreams and fears.
Love you Sam. I’m glad you’re here.

Travelin' this life with me.

***** 

The artist I had originally reached out to was very kind and encouraging, but she ended up not being able to follow through on the project, so I was back to the drawing board for who I could work with to give voice to my song. We have several musically inclined friends (several of which are in local bands), and I contemplated hiring one of them to work with me. But, before I reached out to any of them, the most obvious and awesome band came to mind: The June Bugs.

The Junebugs Playing in Sunriver, 2016
A couple of summers ago, during one of our family trips to our Sunriver house, there was a Portland band scheduled to do a concert on the lawn at the SHARC. Sam was very keen on seeing the band--truth be told, I was kind of lukewarm about it because it was a very chilly afternoon/evening and I was more keen on staying home. But I didn't . . . and I am so glad I didn't. It WAS very cool that night, but The June Bugs put on an excellent show. We absolutely loved their concert. So much so, that after we returned home to Portland, Sam and I sought out several of their local concerts. We saw them at an outdoor concert in Lake Oswego, and at a venue they play at fairly regularly in Vancouver, and several other local places around town. We've purchased their CDs and added their songs to our iPod, and we listen to them regularly. Even if we can't make their concerts, we have their concerts written in our calendar "just in case." Our kids love to tease us about being Junebugs groupies. They would be the perfect band to bring our song to life. Happily, Moses Barrett, their lead singer was game.

I reached out to the band via Facebook, and Moses was quick to respond. I shared my lyrics and our anniversary date with him, we came to an agreement on pricing, and I offered many caveats about not having any experience with song writing (i.e. I don't know the structural elements needed for a song such as a bridge or a chorus), and that I was fine with them taking creative license as needed to turn my lyrics into a song. Some weeks went by and eventually Moses got back to me to let me know that the schedule would not work for the full band to put the song to music/record it, but he could do something solo. I was still elated with that plan. Some more weeks went by, and one Saturday afternoon, Moses reached out to me and mentioned that my lyrics didn't include a chorus. He pointed out that Bob Dylan didn't really write choruses either and said he thought the song "lends itself to that Dylan long form song poem aesthetic," and wondered what I thought. I loved the idea, but again, said that I knew Sam and I would love anything he came up with, and that whatever he hears when he sits with the words would be just right.

Some more weeks passed, and then on August 7, 2018 at 2:53 PM, a most wonderful email popped into my inbox. Moses wrote, "Hey, so here is the tune. What do you think? ... I have some time in the studio tomorrow..." Attached was an acoustic version of my words put to music. I sat at my computer and cried happy tears. I was overwhelmed with emotion. Not only was it amazing to hear my words become music, it was incredible to hear my life with Sam conveyed in a song.

I hit "play" about a dozen times, then took my phone down to the basement where my teenaged son was chilling out, and I played the song for him. He thought it was pretty cool too. I played it for my daughter when she returned home from work, and she was visibly touched by it, too. She asked me how long it took to write the words. I answered honestly that it took me a day . . . a day and a lifetime.

About a week before our anniversary, more happiness arrived in my inbox. Moses re-recorded the song more formally in the studio. I love both versions, the acoustic and the studio. With Moses's permission, I can share the studio version with you here.

Next came the hard part of waiting to share the song(s) with Sam.

My kids helped me plan the rollout. Our daughter and her boyfriend, visiting from out of town, made us breakfast on our anniversary. Earlier in the morning I had loaded both versions of the song onto Sam's iPod, then as we ate breakfast, I casually mentioned that the Junebugs had a new song out that I wanted to play. Our daughter hit the play button, and Sam proceeded to eat breakfast and simply enjoy the song as background music. This is exactly what I thought would happen, because he does not typically drill down to the words of a song as closely as I do, or as quickly as I do. He just ate his breakfast and enjoyed the song in a general sort of way. We played it a couple more times, one of those times the acoustic version where the words are more prominent, and told him to listen to it more closely. He jokingly said, "Ha, did they write us an anniversary song?" And then he started really listening . . .  and then came the emotions.

"How did you pull that off?" he asked. And then I told him the story of Moses . . .

Thank you, Moses Barrett, for making a special anniversary even more special. Sam loves the song as much or maybe even more than I do . . . I and love it quite a lot.

For those of you reading/listening who love this song as much as we do (or like the story behind the song, or simply like to support artists and their art), be aware that Moses and his band are looking to grow their outreach and their following. They have set up a Patreon page to develop a steadier income flow so they can make their art. You can hear their great sound on this Facebook Live concert they offered up to their fanbase a couple of weeks ago--give them a listen and share their work with others! You can also do like Sam and I have done and buy their CDs and/or catch them live in concert. Here is their schedule (they will be at the Oregon State Fair for SEVERAL SHOWS starting Friday, August 24, 2018). It would be great if you could show them some love!

I've long said that someday I'm going to be part of a girl band (I play a mean tambourine!), and recently I've been thinking it would be a good creative outlet to learn more about writing songs. Maybe it all begins with writing the lyrics to my first love song.

July 18, 2018

The Letter Writing Part of the Writing Life - Go Zags

Photo Credit: GU Parent and Family Calendar
I do a fair amount of volunteer work. Sometimes it's hard to decide what to work on and what to pass on, because there are so many issues that I care about that are under threat. I do try to volunteer in ways that lean into my primary interests and skill set, and I especially prefer when volunteer activities intersect with my interests and skill set (for example, writing letters about the importance of strong school libraries, or teaching classes to help others collaborate to build stronger libraries and/or stronger advocacy networks.)

Today, I had the pleasure of writing a letter to parents of incoming Gonzaga University students, welcoming them to the Gonzaga community and sharing information with them about my experiences as a "new college parent" last year. As a volunteer for the Parent-to-Parent network, I get to share information about a topic I'm familiar with and passionate about, and I get to be a resource to others who may have questions I can answer--a great assignment for a writer and consultant/trainer.

As I re-read the letter I sent out today, I realized that other "new college parents" with students that will be attending other universities might find my letter helpful as well. In case that's you, I've pasted in below:

*****

Dear New Zags,

Welcome and Congratulations!

My name is Dawn Prochovnic, and I am a fellow “Zag Parent.” I have volunteered with Gonzaga’s Parent-to-Parent program to be a resource to help with your family’s transition to college, and more specifically to Gonzaga University. I have two children, a daughter and a son. In August, my daughter will be starting her sophomore year at Gonzaga, and my son will be starting his junior at Beaverton High School in the Portland, Oregon area. Although I’m still a relative “newbie Zag” myself, I do feel that I’ve learned a lot over the past school year, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have about the college transition, move-in, or the campus. If I don’t know the answer, I feel confident I could direct you to someone who does.

If you are like me last year, the problem is that you don’t even know which questions to ask, so I will give you a few hints from my experience (some of which I've “borrowed” from the Zag Parent who introduced herself to me last year : ).

First of all, you should make your hotel (or AirBnB) reservations for Orientation/Drop Off Weekend AND for the October Family Weekend NOW. The lodging in Spokane books up rather quickly. Something that I learned last year is that your student will spend VERY LITTLE time with you during the drop off/orientation weekend (and you will be very busy participating in parent orientation events during the drop-off weekend). Our family typically prefers staying in AirBnbs when we travel, because we like to have the option to cook our own meals and we like to have indoor and outdoor spaces to relax and move about. During the drop off weekend, we could have definitely stayed in a hotel room because we really didn’t spend a lot of time in our room other than for sleeping. In contrast, for family weekend, I was VERY GRATEFUL that we had booked an AirBnB with a kitchen and dining table/patio seating area, because one of the things our daughter was craving most was a home-cooked meal and some time to casually relax/watch movies/play games, etc as a family. I brought ingredients for one of her (easy to prep) favorites, and cooking and eating that meal together in a “home environment” was one of the best ways to re-connect and catch up. (NOTE: If you don’t yet use AirBnb, but you want to, let me know and I can send you an “invitation” that I think will give you a discount on your first stay.)

[This next bit of info is from the note my Zag Parent sent me last year: Some of the hotels are close enough to campus that you can walk back and forth; those are always the first to go. The beautiful Davenport Hotels (There are now 3 of them) are in downtown and a bit further away. They charge for parking but are very nice. To make reservations, you should call them and ask for the Gonzaga rate (it brings it down to about the same price of a lesser hotel). They do not offer the Gonzaga rate during Graduation weekend. I just made my reservations for Graduation next May and most of the hotels were booked up the first day they opened for reservations. Keep that in mind 4 years from now.]

Our daughter had attended a pre-orientation program (GOOB) prior to move in. She packed up everything she needed “for college” and had those belongings set aside before she flew to Spokane with a week’s worth of luggage/supplies for her GOOB experience (which was wonderful, by the way). My husband, son and I loaded up her belongings into a small trailer and drove from Portland to Spokane the Thursday afternoon before orientation weekend (the GOOB program wrapped up on that Thursday). Because she was in a pre-orientation program, we were allowed to move in her belongings on that Thursday afternoon, and she spent that first night in her dorm room. I tell you this, because, although she is very independent, she is also very family-oriented and sentimental, and I was not prepared for her to be ready to sleep in her dorm room (without her roommate having even arrived yet) that very first night. I was also not prepared for how much she had already matured after spending just one week in the pre-orientation program. This was all very positive, but also a bit of a shock to me.

Most new students/families moved in on the Friday of orientation weekend. I’ve heard some mention that parking can be a hassle on that day—I can’t really speak to that given our earlier move in day. I will say the “big move-in process" appeared to be very sociable and organized. It was on that day that we met our daughter’s roommate and her family. The moms exchanged contact info with each other and the girls. Although I didn’t really have reason to reach out to my daughter’s roommate during the school year, I felt some peace of mind knowing that I could call or text her if I felt the need to do so. 

We did most of our dorm-related shopping in Portland ahead of time. The shopping experience was an opportunity for my daughter and I to do some bonding (truth be told, it was also a time when we bickered a bit, as tensions rose as the summer progressed—even so, in hindsight, I’m still glad that we shared in those shopping outings.) There are many shopping options in Spokane. (It’s my understanding there are Gonzaga discounts offered at Fred Meyer, Bed Bath and Beyond etc.) As I mentioned earlier, your child may be free for a dinner, maybe a mid-day meet up, but otherwise you may not see them much that weekend. If I had to do it over again, I would still stay through Sunday, but it was clear that our daughter had new relationships to begin making and new experiences to begin experiencing, and by the late-morning meal we shared on Sunday, it was clear that it was time for us to go. 

We headed straight back to Portland after the drop off, but if you are not familiar with Spokane, and you have flexibility in your schedule, it is absolutely beautiful at this time of year so you could spend some additional time exploring. The Centennial trail runs through Gonzaga and downtown (we brought our bikes on family weekend, and rode along the trail and downtown). You can also ride the gondolas over Spokane falls, drive up to Mount Spokane, or head over to cute Coeur d’Alene. We prefer casual restaurants—our two favorites in Spokane are Clark’s Fork (for breakfast/lunch) and No-Li Brewhouse for lunch or dinner (both walking distance from campus). In Coeur d’Alene, we’ve enjoyed Rustic and Taphouse Unchained (both on Sherman). 

Last year my Zag Parent advised me not to buy my student a room refrigerator or microwave and to instead reserve and rent them from the school re: students’ needs change from year to year so, you may be storing that appliance if you buy. She also mentioned that they go fast, so it’s important to reserve these as soon as possible. My sister ended up gifting my daughter a fridge, and her roommate brought a microwave, so we did not rent. To note, my daughter did end up storing her fridge over the summer (in a friend’s storage unit).  

Spokane Winters are wet, COLD and snowy. Your student will need a warm rain jacket with a hood, waterproof snow boots (not Uggs!!), gloves, and warm clothing. Winter starts in Spokane in October, so during Family weekend the kids are usually ready to admit they need warmer clothes. 

Think about encouraging your child to set up a Lyft and/or Uber account if they haven’t already. This comes in very handy to get to and from the airport. I think Gonzaga has/had a shuttle to the airport during the holidays, but we welcomed the convenience of the ride services. The airport in Spokane is very low-key. It takes very little time to get there and through security. I’m told that train is also an option, but we do not have any experience with that. Although we did not allow our daughter to have a car in Spokane for the first semester, we did agree to let her drive back to Spokane after spring break, so she had a car on campus for the last couple of months of school. 

A few other details that you might find helpful:

-There are MANY choices of sessions to attend during Orientation. My husband and I attended some sessions together, and some apart (trading notes as needed afterwards).

-We did not attend any formal functions during Family Weekend (we just spent time together as a family)—sorry event planners/organizers! In fact, last year we commented that we really could have visited during any other weekend, just to connect. However, we came to realize that even if we didn’t attend functions during Family Weekend, it was a time when our daughter’s friends were also occupied with their own families, so we really did have her full (or mostly full) attention. We just booked an AirBnb for Fall family weekend, 2018. 

-Parent and Family Relations is a wonderful resource. I describe them as a cross between a concierge and a parenting coach for parents with college-aged kids. ; ) 

-Care Packages: Speaking of Parent and Family Relations, they will offer you opportunities to purchase care packages. I did not purchase any of these (though I think they act as a fund raiser for a good cause). Instead, as soon as I got home from dropping my daughter off to college, I went shopping for some of her favorite snacks and small gifty-items that I thought she would enjoy (soaps, lotions, stickers for her water bottle, silly things that connected with our inside jokes and/or her interests, seasonal decorations, etc). I sent little care packages every so often, and around “holidays” like Halloween and Valentine’s Day, etc. I also wrote letters . . . good old fashioned letters. I didn’t write so much about what was going on at home while she was away . . . but instead wrote about memories I had from when she was a younger child. I have to say, of everything I sent, I honestly think the letters were the most important to her . . . and they were therapeutic for me! 

-Speaking of holidays, book flights home and back for Thanksgiving break sooner than later. We had originally planned that we would drive to pick her up and bring her back, but the reality is that Thanksgiving break is VERY short, and the driving can be unpredictable during that time of year. We ended up flying her home and back, but by the time we looked into tickets, the flight times available were not ideal, and of course, they were more expensive. 

-Shots: There is a two-part shot that is recommended (required?). We did the first part at home, but didn’t get to the second part until she got to school (so we had to get the second shot at the college health clinic instead of at our normal doctor’s office). On one hand, that was good, as it a provided a reason to “get to know” the health clinic, but it also meant our daughter’s arm was sore during that time ; ). Had I to do it over again, I would have scheduled the shots earlier in the summer so that both could have been taken care of at home.

Okay, I’ve likely bombarded you with too much information, but hopefully it’s helpful. Please don’t hesitate to call or email me with any specific questions you might have, and feel free to email just to introduce yourself if you are so inclined. 

Go Zags! 

*****

So, dear readers, what are your experiences dropping your child off at college? and/or What are the things you are thinking about and wondering about as you prepare to drop your child off to college?

Best wishes for a successful transition to college in your family!

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!

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