April 28, 2021

The "Setting Intentions" Part of the Writing Life

I recently shared an abbreviated version of this essay in the SCBWI-Oregon newsletter. I wanted to share it here, for those outside of the kidlit community. 


The summer of 2016, I spent a girls' weekend at the coast with my daughter, her circle of friends, and their moms, dear friends of mine. One evening, as we gathered around the fire pit, one of the moms, a psychologist, asked us to set our intentions for what we wanted more of in our lives in the coming year. She distributed notecards and markers, and we each wrote our intentions on the cards. 

I wrote "music" and "laughter" on mine. 

It was a brief exercise, and one that seemed minor in the moment. 

When I returned home, I tossed my card on one of the "to-do, later" piles on my desk (confession: there are several such piles on my desk.) I came across it a year or so later while tidying up my desk. Eventually, I tucked the card in the pages of my old-style planner, where I happen upon it every so often, "accidentally, on purpose." Each time I rediscover that notecard, I reflect on the gathering around the fire, and I reflect on how music and laughter have indeed become more a part of my life since setting those intentions. 

It's just a little scrap of paper with a couples of words scribbled on it, but I credit the act of setting those intentions with several important milestones that have occurred in my personal and creative life. Case in point, since committing those two words to paper, I have:

*Published two humorous picture books (Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?), and I’ve participated in several laughter-infused book events for those titles. To note: my favorite humorous props are a flushable toy toilet and a poo-emoji speaker. 

*Written the lyrics to a love song for my husband in celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary, then hired one of our favorite local bands, The Junebugs, to set the song to music and record the song. 

*Written the lyrics for songs to accompany the book trailers for my Pirate and Cowgirl books, collaborating with two different musicians (Annie Lynn/AnnieBirdd Music, LLC, and Marshall Mitchell, respectively) who wrote the music and recorded the songs.

*Written the lyrics for a companion song for my picture book, Lucy’s Blooms, collaborating with musician, Maiah Wynne, who wrote the music and produced the song. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve participated in making. You can view the animated book trailer and listen to the song here:

*I also had the remarkable bonus experience of sharing stories about my late father-in-law with the modern folk duo Fox and Bones, and they created a beautiful song about his life story as part of the launch for their new Custom Song offering. 

Some might argue that a little notecard with a couple of words scribbled upon it didn’t influence the art I’ve created over the past several years, but I know otherwise. I’ve always enjoyed laughter, but never before written or published humorous books; now I have two humorous picture books published and several more written. I’ve long wanted to be more involved in music-making, but never before acted on that interest; now I have four lyric-writing credits, with more planned for the future. These creative happenings didn’t occur by chance; they occurred largely because I set my intentions for them to do so.  

So, get yourself notecard or two. Start a fire if you must. Write down what you want more of in your life. Then get to work bringing forth those intentions.

April 13, 2021

The "Virtual Book Launch" Part of the Writing Life

Today marks the book birthday for my 20th picture book! 

I'm so grateful to everyone who has had a hand in the making of this book, from my family members who inspire, encourage and support my writing life, to my critique group and fellow SCBWI members who helped me shape and polish the manuscript, to the wonderful team at West Margin Press that acquired the manuscript, paired me with a fantastic illustrator, and provided TLC and immense talent throughout the editorial, art direction, and book design process. I'm also grateful to my friends and colleagues who have helped shine a light on this book, and now to the parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, and booksellers who will help get this book into the hands of young readers. Thank you all. 

Lucy's Blooms was written and revised over a period of several years. West Margin Press acquired the manuscript long before the pandemic hit, and the editorial process wrapped up pre-pandemic as well. Alice Brereton's beautiful illustrations were created and shared with me during (what I now realize were) the early months of the pandemic. Seeing the thumbnails, sketches, and final art emerge during months and months of quarantine (and amidst pandemic-related disappointments) helped me focus on the future and focus on the positive. 

During this time, another positive experience was working with the incredibly talented musician, Maiah Wynne, to create Lucy's Song. I wrote the lyrics in collaboration with Maiah, then she composed the music and performed and recorded the song. After the book illustrations and song were completed, I created the animated video for Lucy's Blooms:

Lucy's Blooms created happy places and spaces for me to retreat into, and these creative tasks kept me grounded and focused during an otherwise uncertain time. 

I've launched many books into the world, and I've long created and curated enrichment materials for young readers, teachers, and librarians who utilize my website as a resource, but this is my first virtual book launch experience. The situation we find ourselves in caused me to push myself outside of my comfort zone and learn and do new things, such as: 

Conducting a Goodreads giveaway (with 1810 entrants and 1651 readers adding Lucy's Blooms to their "Want to Read" shelf.) I've not done a giveaway on this platform before, so I don't know how it compares with others' experiences, but I feel pretty good about it!

Collaborating with author friends and colleagues to create enrichment materials for my books. For example, my friend and colleague, Lora Heller, and her team at Baby Fingers LLC created video clips of sign language interpretation of Lucy's Song. You can find those on the Lucy's Blooms playlist on my YouTube channel.  (Lora and her team offer a wide range of classes for Deaf and hearing students of all ages--and their classes are now available on virtual platforms from anywhere in the world. I encourage you to check them out!) Likewise, my friend and colleague, Kathy MacMillan recorded a wonderful flannelboard rhyme activity that teaches several ASL signs and is a great pairing for a story time featuring Lucy's Blooms. (Kathy has heaps of other story time resources on her StoriesByHand website!)

Writing press releases (that resulted in at least a couple of local newspaper articles.) 

Sending postcards to friends, family, and "book people" in my network.

Recording a virtual story time hosted by Green Bean Books--you can view it at 11 AM, Tuesday, April 20 (Pacific Time), or afterwards via Green Bean Books' YouTube channel.

Preparing Grab-n-Go activity bags for Portland-area readers who participate in the virtual book launch event at Green Bean Books.

Creating GIFs, videos, and images for social media posts, such as:

Much of what I learned in this process required patience, perserverence and love, similar to what Lucy and her Gram cultivated in Lucy's Blooms, and much of what I've learned will be incorporated into future book launches. Thank you for walking with me through this journey. May your seeds of love take root and grow, Lucy's Blooms! Happy Birthday to you!

April 5, 2021

The "Inspiration" Part of the Writing Life

My new picture book, Lucy's Blooms, was inspired by an experience in my own garden, many years ago. As I diligently tended to the flowers in my carefully prepared flowerbeds, I observed two additional plants that had independently sprouted in a patch of soil that bordered my front walkway. They looked something like this:

Link to Image Credit

I didn’t know what these plants were, only that they were beautiful and thriving. Eventually, more experienced gardeners informed me that these plants were actually weeds, and I was advised to pull them. This vigorous and lively pair of weeds brought me such joy as I passed by them day after day, I couldn’t fathom the idea of discarding them. Instead, I nurtured them. I watered them, I talked to them, and I admired them as they grew and grew…and grew.

As I reflected on this experience, I considered the impact of socially constructed labels, such as beauty and worth, and how these labels impact our everyday actions. I became fascinated by dandelions, in particular, because they are widely considered to be an invasive nuisance that should be controlled/eliminated, and yet, every part of a dandelion (root, leaves, petals, etc.) is edible, they are rich in nutrients, and they are known to have healthful, curative properties. Plus, they are easy to grow, resilient, wildly familiar to (and beloved by) children, and in my view, absolutely beautiful.

And thus were planted, the seeds of Lucy’s Blooms.

Published by West Margin Press

Some years later, as the manuscript for Lucy’s Blooms was still germinating, artist and activist Mona Caron painted a fireweed on a building in Portland, Oregon, my hometown.

Link to Photo Credt

I began to research her work and found myself taken with many of the things she had to say, such as:

I also found myself drawn to this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

I ruminated on these quotes and ideas, as I continued to revise Lucy's Blooms until it captured the essence of what I wanted to say.

And what better day to share this with you than today, National Dandelion Day (yep, that's a thing.)

And to celebrate, I'll end with a fun dandelion-related activity for all ages: