November 16, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: THE PROUDEST COLOR, by Sheila Modir, PhD and Jeff Kashou, LMFT

I have met many wonderful people as a result of my affiliation with Familius, the publisher of my next scheduled book. Most recently, I had the honor of interviewing two especially caring and compassionate individuals: Sheila Modir, PhD and Jeff Kashou, LMFT, co-authors of the meaningful and timely picture book, THE PROUDEST COLOR (illustrated by Monica Mikai, published by Familius, 2021). 

Dear Readers, I hope you will give this book, and the story-behind-the-story, the time and attention it deserves.  

by Sheila Modir PHD and Jeff Kashou LMFT
and Monica Mikai
 

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Dr. Sheila and Jeff. It’s my understanding that you were inspired to write THE PROUDEST COLOR after the murder of George Floyd, and you’ve said, “Writing is our form of activism.” That’s a very powerful statement. Can you share more details about how you came to decide that writing a book for children was one of the ways in which you wanted to actively engage in social justice work? 

Dr. Sheila Modir and Jeff Kashou, LMFT: As mental health professionals working primarily with children and adolescents, and their families, we wanted to write a book that was based in evidence-based research, while simultaneously promoting racial justice. Following a charged political climate, discussions around building walls and immigration, and in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, we had patients that were questioning their skin color and their cultural pride. When we searched our local bookstores and libraries for a book or resource to help initiate a conversation about race/racism, skin color, and racial/cultural pride, we couldn’t find one. I (Sheila) had conducted research on racial socialization (how parents/ caregivers communicate messages of race/racism to their child and the impact of it on their mental health) in graduate school, and referred back to the research studies to help inform this book. Our author proceeds are donated to nonprofit organizations like ACLU who will continue to promote racial justice. We feel like there is a lot more work to do in this field, but helping take one step forward by educating our youth and providing a resource for parents is our form of activism. 

DP: I sincerely appreciate how you have harnessed your expertise to create something tangible and actionable in service of a better world. 

George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020, and THE PROUDEST COLOR was published in September, 2021, which in my experience, is an incredibly short turn-around time in the children’s book world! Can you share with us the process and timeframe between your initial idea for the book and the manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor/publisher? 

SM and JK: Yes, it was a fast turn-around time, and it’s truly because Familius recognized that a book like this needed to be out on shelves as soon as possible. The idea of the book was based on an essay I had written in graduate school about growing up as a brown girl in the Midwest and standing out in my school photos, in my group of friends, and essentially everywhere I went. This awareness of differences at a young age is powerful and shapes your self-esteem and your identity. We used this essay and the racial socialization research to help write The Proudest Color. To help us with the writing process, we asked questions like: How does a child react when they experience overt discrimination? How can parents help maneuver their child’s discrimination experience? What are ways they can build cultural pride? Up until now, no children’s book has openly discussed an experience of racism. We wanted to go there, because growing up we had experienced racism, and hearing our patient’s stories we knew they were experiencing it. We knew people are experiencing it, but now we needed to provide a way for parents/caregivers/ teachers to help them process it. We wrote the book in 5 days. At the time we were writing, there was a huge online movement where communities of color were sharing their experiences of discrimination, injustices, and inequities, and supporting one another, and we wanted to contribute to that. We searched for small publishing companies that focused on books for families and also had a history of publishing mental health books. Within a week of sending our manuscript to various publishers, we heard back from Familius. They understood the importance of the book and wanted it out as soon as possible. Within a year of submitting the book to them, it was published on shelves!

DP: That is a such a powerful and inspiring backstory. I'm so glad you found a home for this book with Familius, and that they were nimble enough to bring it to the marketplace quickly. 

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?

SM and JK: The Proudest Color not only talks about discrimination, but it also introduces readers to emotion identification. Surprisingly, finding colors and naming the colors was something that went through a few revisions. Jeff was great at finding fun and creative names for the colors like razzle dazzle pink! We wanted this book to truly embody mental health and resilience so each of the revisions moved us toward that. We also asked friends and colleagues in the mental health field to review it and provide us with feedback.  

Interior Image: THE PROUDEST COLOR

DP: I love the layers of learning in this book, such as the incorporation of colors and emotion identification. (The topic of resilience is dear to me; it's what rooted me to my most recent book, LUCY'S BLOOMS, a story that took many years and many revisions to write, and many rejections before finding its way to publication.) 

I'd like to hear a little more about your writing process. I would anticipate that co-authoring a book might create some unique opportunities—and also some unique challenges. Could you share some insights into your collaborative process? What elements of the collaborative process might you strive to repeat (and/or avoid) when working together on future book projects? 

SM and JK: We are married so it wasn’t too hard to write together since this was during the pandemic and we were both working from home. I wrote in the early mornings, and Jeff wrote in the evenings, and we would email each other the draft we had worked on. We both have our own writing styles and ideas so bringing them together was a fun process and we are looking forward to continuing this collaboration!

DP: Based on the information on your website and what you’ve shared here and in other interviews, I realize THE PROUDEST COLOR comes from a place of personal experience and extensive professional research. Can you share some of what it means to you (as mental health professionals, as Middle Eastern Americans, as human beings), to be able to bring an authentic, #OwnVoices story into the marketplace? 

SM and JK: We believe it is important to have more people share their stories because there is so much out there that needs to be told, especially in the Middle Eastern community where there is little representation. We know representation matters so it meant a lot to have our voice out there and to be able to include famous people from the Middle Eastern community to include in our book. 

Interior Image: THE PROUDEST COLOR

Interior Image: THE PROUDEST COLOR

DP: I'm so glad that your voices are out there, and that THE PROUDEST COLOR draws attention to some of the familiar and famous voices from the Middle Eastern community. 

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?

SM and JK: The Proudest Color was incredibly rare in how quickly it was written, accepted, and published. Our other books have not been that fast so we know things take time and it can often feel like a very slow process. It is also a very vulnerable experience to have your work out there and have others read it, so be gentle on yourself. Finally, we recommend celebrating all the wins, even the small ones, like getting your idea written out in a draft format, writing your query letter, imagining your illustrations – whatever it is – honor it because it’s a lot of work!

DP: Those are such empowering tips and reminders. Thank you for that.

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

SM and JK: We are writing more books on diversity and mental health topics and are excited to get them out there! People can find more information on us at www.theproudestcolor.com.

DP: I really appreciate you sharing your path to publication for THE PROUDEST COLOR, Dr. Sheila and Jeff. I look forward to following your work and supporting this and future books.  

Friends, you've heard me say it before: The best way to thank authors whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books for yourself and as gifts. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. These actions are especially important and impactful with THE PROUDEST COLOR, because by supporting this book, you are also promoting racial justice and supporting nonprofit organizations such as ACLU, who continue to promote racial justice. THE PROUDEST COLOR is available everywhere books are sold, including from your local, independent bookstore (which you can access online via Bookshop.org) and directly from Familius, the publisher.  

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Image Credit: Lovers of Love
As Middle Eastern Americans (Iranian and Palestinian) and as clinicians,  Dr. Sheila Modir and Jeff advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion and work toward building resilience in children.  Dr. Modir is a board certified psychologist at a children's hospital. She obtained a combined doctoral degree in Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and her master’s degree in social welfare at UCLA. Dr. Modir has presented at conferences, spoken on podcasts, and published articles on the impact of racial trauma on mental health and risk and resilience factors. Jeff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a manager of clinical product and service design for a mental health tech company. He has his master’s in clinical psychology from Pepperdine and was previously on the Board of Directors for the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.

Together they have advocated at the state and federal level for better mental health care policies, in addition to doing international work at a Red Cross refugee asylum in Belgium. They also consult on film and television productions, including for Disney and Freeform, to ensure that mental health is portrayed responsibly, and have been judges for the annual Sentinel Awards. 

Find them on social media: 

Twitter: @drsheilamodir

Instagram: @drsheilasbookshelf

Website: https://theproudestcolor.com/

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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, 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.  

November 2, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR, by Rebecca Kraft Rector

Hello readers! In today's edition of Birth Stories for Books, we take a behind-the-scenes look at the path to publication for Rebecca Kraft Rector's new book, LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR, (illustrated by Shanda McCloskey, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, September 2022). 

The book is based on such a fun concept. I can't wait to hear more about how it came to be. 

by Rebecca Kraft Rector and Shanda McCloskey

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome back to the blog, Rebecca. In our last interview, you shared your path to publication experience for an earlier book, SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED. I’m looking forward to learning more about your latest book, LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR.

Rebecca Kraft Rector: Thanks, Dawn!

DP: Speaking of editors, can you share with us the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this book and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to a REAL LIVE EDITOR?  

RKR: It took about 30 revisions and two years from idea to submission. My agent suggested submitting the story to editors as a package with sketches from one of her illustrators. I’d never heard of submitting a package, but as soon as I saw Shanda McCloskey’s sketches, I said Yes, yes, yes! They were absolutely perfect, full of energy, personality, and sass. Fabulous! I am so very lucky that Shanda agreed to do the illustrations.

DP: What a great match up. The illustrations are so much fun! And it sounds like your agent's submission approach was a good one. 

Image Credit: Shanda McCloskey, from LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR

Image Credit: Shanda McCloskey, from LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR

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?

RKR: In the first drafts, Little Red met two other animals before Mr. Wolf. Then I had Mr. Wolf disguised as other animals. Finally, I had him appear as himself immediately. The other versions distracted from the point of the story. Right from the start I knew Red would write Granny a thank you letter for the cape and Mr. Wolf would correct it and thus miss eating Red.

DP: It sounds like you really took the idea of revising until the story was just right to heart. That's an important tip we all could learn from. 

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? 

RKR: I think it was when I started having fun with the language—adding alliteration, assonance, similes, idioms, etc.

DP: I think most of our stories get better when we lean into the fun! 

When you compare your path to publication for LITTLE RED to your experience with SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED, what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each?

RKR: SQUISHED was an old story that I took to a Highlights workshop where it was ‘discovered.’ LITTLE RED was a completely new story. SQUISHED was called a modern take on an old tale. I hadn’t set out to do that. But with LITTLE RED, I purposefully looked for an old tale that I could twist. I played with titles and came up with LITTLE RED WRITING HOOD. And the idea of the thank you letter was inspired by that.

DP: I just love the word play and the concept. It's so much fun. 

You have a fantastic Parent and Educator's Guide for LITTLE RED on your website. It looks like both you and the illustrator, Shanda McCloskey, had a hand in this. Can you provide some insights about how this guide came together? Have you received any feedback from parents and educators about how they are putting this resource to good use? 

RKR: I wrote a basic Educator’s Guide for SQUISHED and I thought I’d do something similar with LITTLE RED. But Shanda suggested we do one together. We talked about things we could include and she outlined it and put together her part of it quickly. It was amazing. I wanted to be sure my part of the Guide reflected curriculum standards. I’d been writing educational test passages and questions, as well as other things for educational publishers. So my mind was stuffed with standards. That actually slowed me down for a long time. I couldn’t include everything! We have had some teacher feedback that it’s just what they need, but we haven’t heard how it’s actually being used in the classroom. Yet.

DP: 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. Now that you have launched several books, (two while the world has been navigating a pandemic), what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful (in-person and/or remote) events? 

RKR: Websites and social media are great ways to make people aware of you and your availability. If you’re doing a virtual visit, try to test your equipment on their platform ahead of time. My microphone worked fine on Skype and Zoom, but wouldn’t work at all for Crowdcast. I had to type answers into the chat box! Shanda has a wonderful podcast with lots of great tips. 

DP: Great tip on testing individual platforms ahead of time, and wow! What a fantastic resource. I was not familiar with this podcast. Thanks so much for sharing it. 

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?

RKR: “Just keep swimming.” Write. Persist. Do what makes you happy. You may have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince. But it only takes one “yes.”

DP: That's fantastic advice, Rebecca. 

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR with us.

Readers, Rebecca's books are available everywhere books are sold, including your local indie bookstore, which you can access online via Bookshop. And if you can't add another book to your personal library, you can still support Rebecca's work by requesting one or more of her books from your local library


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Rebecca Kraft Rector is a retired librarian and the author of more than thirty fiction and nonfiction books for children. Her cats Ollie and Opal keep her company while she writes. When she isn’t writing and eating chocolate, she’s trying to keep deer out of her garden.

LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR is Rebecca’s second picture book, published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster in 2022.

Visit Rebecca online at https://rebeccakraftrector.wordpress.com


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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, 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.  

October 25, 2022

Have Swag Will Travel: UP AND ADAM, by Debbie Zapata

Dear readers, I'm pleased to bring you another post in my blog series, Have Swag, Will Travel: Tips for Planning Book Events.

Today's guest is author, Debbie Zapata, who shares her experiences planning inclusive book events and story times, featuring her debut picture book, UP AND ADAM, illustrated by Yong Ling Kang (Kids Can Press, May 2022). Debbie's insights and resources are helpful year round, but they are especially timely in October, which is Down syndrome awareness month

Take it away, Debbie!

by Debbie Zapata and Yong Ling Kang

Storytime for All: UP AND ADAM

by Debbie Zapata

Thanks so much for having me, Dawn, on your fab kidlit blog! I launched my debut picture book recently. I knew it would be a wild ride, so I cofounded Kidlit Caravan, a troupe of authors with debut picture books new in ‘22. A debut group is a great way to surround yourself with writers on the same journey who can cheer one another on and celebrate our book birthdays together.

Image Source: Debbie Zapata

Up and Adam, released in May 2022 (Kids Can Press, illustrated by Yong Ling Kang). Adam, a young boy with Down syndrome, and his dog, Up, help their community after a big storm. When the Mayor asks the community for help, Up and Adam spring into action and lend a hand wherever they can. But it turns out, Adam’s most important contribution is one he doesn’t even think about—his smile. Adam’s open-hearted and infectious smile lights the pages as he lifts spirits all over town.

As a child I loved to write stories. It wasn’t until my son was born with Down syndrome that the story concept for Up and Adam took shape. Seeing my work in print has been a tremendous joy because I believe in a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book. Only about 3% of children’s picture books include a prominent character with a disability. Up and Adam features a protagonist with Down syndrome and focuses on the character’s abilities. I hope it inspires children to see how everyone can make a difference in their community.

The book, Up and Adam is designed for readers of all ages and abilities. It is an uplifting story that celebrates individuality, volunteerism, and community. The best part of it being out in the world, is that I get to meet readers at inclusive storytime events and school visits. 

Once an event is scheduled, I get to work on marketing. I let people know that all ages and abilities are welcome. I like to incorporate help from my son. 


Image Source: Debbie Zapata


I advertise that a range of craft choices will be available. I initially did this in order to address a range of abilities. However, at the first Up and Adam storytime event, I saw that all kids chose based on their mood or personal preference. I realize that not just kids, but all people make different choices based on what they need at any given time. It is by tuning in to what each person needs that we open up a world filled with compassion, empathy, and connection.

There is a fun scene in the story at Up and Adam’s neighborhood pizzeria. So, I offer a pizza decorating craft project that has a variety of choices including:

Paper plate decorating with precut pizza toppings and variety of glue stick sizes

Pizza decorating sheets printed on paper to color with different size markers

Pizza decorating sheets laminated to decorate with playdoh toppings

Laminated cheese pizza printout to decorate with Velcro pizza toppings

Sticker pizza slices to decorate with toppings stickers



Image Source: Debbie Zapata

I bring along a number of visual schedules for anyone who may find it easier to participate if they know what is occurring during inclusive storytime.

Image Source: Debbie Zapata

I have endless ideas for activities for all ages and abilities. I often print out fun word searches and bring along a collection of writing instruments including adaptive pencils. 

I love meeting my son’s friends and teachers who recognize my son’s traits in the story. I also love making new friends, signing books, and hearing what it’s like for their family to see a character who has Down syndrome in a picture book that focuses on his abilities. An American Sign Language interpreter is at the book reading to interpret the story alongside the reader. I’ll ask a friend to hold up another copy of the book so everyone can see the pictures. When I read to a large group, I do a digital visual presentation of the book.

Image Source: Debbie Zapata

I appreciate that my local indie Book People chose to shelve Up and Adam in the section called ‘Being Me.’ Some people want my son to sign their copy of the book. I ordered stickers that act as his personalization (I hope this makes you smile) and he writes his name below.

Image Source: Debbie Zapata


It is an honor to visit schools that provide education to children of all abilities in an inclusive setting. Kids enjoy meeting Up and Adam and often find it hard to say goodbye. I like to leave a little something with the kids.

Image Source: Debbie Zapata

A little storytime swag goes a long way. I like to offer kids a choice between two stickers (i.e. happy face or flower) and then a choice between two different colors. They love picking a sticker just for them! Thanks to my wonderful publisher Kids Can Press, I can also share Up and Adam coloring and activity pages

Image Source: Debbie Zapata

I love seeing photos shared on social media of families reading Up and Adam together. It’s wonderful to receive messages from parents expressing how much it means to them and their family member with a disability to see a protagonist with Down syndrome in a picture book. And it was an honor to participate in School Library Journal Day of Dialog last May. I was on a panel called Out and About: Children, their families, and communities shine in these uplifting picture books. I was elated when I read the School Library Journal review for Up and Adam. Warm reception for a book featuring a character with a disability helps it reach readers.


I am already getting quite a few requests for library storytime events, school visits, and I’m part of the author lineup for the 2022 Texas Book Festival. It will be held in Austin the first weekend of November. Up and Adam will be featured in the Read Me a Story Tent on Congress Ave on Sunday November 6th at  3 p.m. It will be an inclusive storytime not to be missed! Follow me on social media (IG, Twitter) or check my website for other upcoming announcement regarding Up and Adam news and events.

Writing, marketing, and book promotion is challenging. But the moments of sharing your book with kids of all ages and abilities, is worth it.

This is such an excellent post, Debbie. Your enthusiasm for inclusion is contagious! I especially appreciate how any educator (e.g. a teacher, librarian, community educator, or a parent) could easily lead a lesson around your book just by following your detailed notes and tips in this post. For this reason, I will also add this post to the lesson plans featured in my Start to Finish Story Time series

Readers, UP AND ADAM is available everywhere books are sold, but by now you know I'm partial to supporting your local indie bookstore--you can do that online via Bookshop.org.  And if you can't add another book to your personal library, you can still support Debbie's work by requesting UP AND ADAM from your local library. 

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Image Credit: Joni Lorraine
Debbie Zapata grew up in a multicultural family in Austin, Texas. She enjoys helping others as a counselor and writing books for children that have heart and humor. Debbie loves creating stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. She believes each of us has the ability to make the world a better place. Debbie lives in Austin with her family. Up and Adam (Kids Can Press, May 2022 illustrated by Yong Ling Kang) is her first picture book. 


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Have Swag Will Travel 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, 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.  

August 4, 2022

The "Listening to Live Music" Part of the Writing Life

As I've mentioned before, listening to live music is one way I feed my creative soul. 

Waiting for Blind Pilot to Enter the Stage at Pioneer Courthouse Square, July 2022

I've decided to make this pastime a bit easier on myself by creating a blog post with links to some of the bands and music venues I most enjoy.  If you are local to Portland and/or Sunriver/Bend, Oregon (or just passing through), maybe this resource will be helpful and inspiring to you, too. If so, I hope you will bookmark it and/or share it with a friend. 

Some of my favorite musical artists

Blind Pilot (They do an annual show at the Liberty Theater in Astoria. We've also heard the lead singer, Isreal Nebeker, solo.)

Fox and Bones (The artists who wrote and recorded this moving song, a tribute to the tremendous life of my late father-in-law, Henry Prochovnic)

Glen Phillips (I also enjoy the full band, Toad the Wet Sprocket)

Jonatha Brooke (Some day I hope to see her 4 Noses Show. Support her "Kitchen Covid Concerts," here .)

The Junebugs (The lead singer composed and recorded the anniversary song I wrote for my husband)

Maiah Wynne (The musical artist behind the beautiful companion song to Lucy's Blooms. Join her Patreon here) 

Paula Cole (I have admired and supported her work since the early 1990's. Listen to an interview here.)

Shawn Mullins (His songs are like stories. I especially love Twin Rocks, Oregon.)

William Topley (We've seen him countless times in Portland. I hope to see him play live at a pub in London some day). 


Favorite Outdoor Venues (Bend/Sunriver Area):

Bunk and Brew (Fun and Funky, youthful vibe. Event schedule on FB.)

Hayden Homes Amphitheatere (for bigger shows)

On Tap (They have an especially great beer and cider selection.)

Rivers Place (They typically have live music on Thursday and Sunday evenings.)

Silver Moon Brewing (They have the most excellent fire pits!)

Worthy (A gorgeous outdoor stage. Also has a "hopservatory" star gazing spot.)


Favorite Outdoor Venues (Portland Area):

Topaz Farm on Sauvie Island (Family friendly, very welcoming, and beautiful setting.)

Listening to The Portland Cello Project Playing Prince Music at Topaz Farm

Favorite Indoor Venues (Bend/Sunriver Area):

Old St. Francis School (Additional schedule info on the main McMenamins site)


Favorite Indoor Venues (Portland Area):

Al's Den

Aladdin Theatre

Alberta Rose Theatre

Alberta Street Pub

The Old Church

The Muddy Rudder Public House (A great neighborhood place, with excellent food and service, too!)

Polaris Hall


Bookmark this page and check back often; I'll keep this page updated as my list of favorites changes and grows! 

Last revised: August 4, 2022 

June 29, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU, by Amanda Rowe

Hello readers! I have another inspiring story to share with you in today's edition of Birth Stories for Books. My guest is Amanda Rowe, author of IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU (illustrated by Olga SkomorokhovaFamilius, 2019.) 

By Amanda Rowe and Olga Skomorokhova

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Amanda. Today we get to celebrate the recent Book Birthday for IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU. 

You shared some of what inspired you to write this story in an earlier interview with Read and Shine, but I wonder if you could recap some of that again for us here?

Amanda Rowe: I initially wrote If There Never Was a You as a poem for my children. Since I was a child, I have made greeting cards, and sometimes I write a poem for my children’s birthdays or other special occasions. I wrote down these thoughts and feelings about my kids for them – it wasn’t until later that I considered the possibility of it becoming a children’s book.

DP: What a beautiful backstory. It makes your book even more special.

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? 

AR: Yes, when I reread If There Never Was a You and realized that the feelings are universal. I wrote it because I wanted to convey to my kids what their presence in my life meant to me. After giving it some thought, I realized that other parents might want to express these feelings to their children, but they might lack the words. Not everyone is a writer. So, I thought, what if there was a way that I could make this piece available for other caregivers to share with their children? I could imagine parents, or even aunts, uncles, or grandparents reading this to their favorite tiny people, and I thought a children’s book might be an appropriate medium for this message. So, I submitted it.

DP: Fantastic! 

When you compare the path to publication for this book to the paths to publication for some of your poems and/or non-fiction articles, what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each?

AR: In my experience, non-fiction articles are easy to sell. They are factual information, so it’s just a matter of finding someone interested in that subject matter to pitch it to. Poems and fiction have a harder time finding homes because they have to resonate emotionally with their audience. You have to find someone who understands the sentiment and wants to take that journey. And getting a book deal is more difficult than other forms of publication because it is about much more than likability or even the execution. You can have the most well-written, touching story, but if the publisher can’t market it or it isn’t a good fit for their list (which could happen for many reasons), they could love it and still pass on it. Writing can be a soul-crushing business that way. Every time I get offered a publishing contract, I consider it a miracle.

DP: A hard-earned miracle, I'd say!  

Your bio mentions that you edited The Genome Factor. Based on your experience on both sides of the table, author and editor, what professional advice or suggestions do you have to offer to aspiring authors? 

AR: No matter what you’re writing, it is vital to have a fresh set of eyes on your work – someone else to point out flaws, whether big picture issues, typos, or grammatical errors. Tackle the big picture issues first – plot, story arc, characters (or flow or fact-checking for non-fiction) – and once you’ve got your narrative finalized, you do the line-by-line edits for typos and grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, etc. Every step of the way, it helps to have someone else read your work and provide feedback – someone who will feel comfortable offering constructive criticism and pointing out your mistakes. It can be awkward, but it’s much less embarrassing to have your editor (or a friend) point out errors and fix them pre-publication than to see your mistakes in print for the rest of your life.

DP. Excellent advice! 

Speaking of advice, 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. Your website showcases an active outreach to young readers at a wide variety of venues. Based on this experience, what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful (in-person and/or remote) events?

AR: For me, the key to successful events is connection. I connect with readers by being my authentic self and allowing them a glimpse of the person behind the job title – by simply being Amanda instead of ‘the author.’ Like so many of my readers, I’m a mom. I’m an employee; I am a person who makes mistakes and tries to do better. And I used to be a little kid with big dreams. 

To connect with my audience, I tap into those similarities; I try to let down my guard and have a real conversation. 


Image Source: Amanda Rowe

That’s what I miss most about my book tour – meeting new people and having conversations with them about our lives – our hopes, our fears, our disappointments. When I talk to children, I focus on hopes and dreams – what are their talents? How do they want to use them? What do they hope to do or to be one day? I ask those questions with adults, too, but I frame the conversation with more of an “it’s not too late” perspective. I explain to them that I put my dreams on hold for many years to raise my kids, get a job, and survive, but they were always there in the background. Eventually, I was able to carve out time to start pursuing them again. I like to encourage adults and children to keep dreaming, setting goals, and considering what is possible. Because anything is possible if you want it enough, and you’re willing to work for it. I think the key to success isn’t talent – it’s tenacity. You can learn skills and study and hone your craft, but if you don’t want it enough, you’ll never get anywhere, no matter how talented you are. 

Having those kinds of heart-to-heart conversations is what makes the most memorable events. And also, stickers! If you’re a children’s book author, get some stickers with your book cover on them. Kids love stickers, and they stick them to their clothes or their backpack, and then when they get home, they are reminded of your book again – and so are their parents.

DP: I love your heartfelt and authentic approach, Amanda. (And, I couldn't agree more on the stickers! Stickermule is my favorite source.)

In addition to authoring and promoting your book and other freelance projects, working your day job, and raising children (which has included navigating some serious health challenges), you also maintain a lifelong commitment to giving and volunteerism. How do you balance the time between your different writing projects and the different aspects of the publishing business alongside an active work and home life?

AR: It’s all about priorities. My kids come first. Now that they are older and more independent, they take up less time, which frees up some time for my writing career.

Because I have a full-time day job, I can only work on my writing career on nights, weekends, holidays, or vacation days. So, I do. I can’t tell you how many sunny days I’ve spent indoors hunched over my keyboard; how many invitations I’ve turned down; how many early mornings or lunch breaks I’ve spent writing. Progress requires sacrifice. If you want something, you have to give something else up. 

I am an introvert by nature, so giving up social engagements hasn’t been a problem for me, but I don’t spend as much time with my friends and extended family as I would like to. Also, there are many weekends when I’d love to read a book or take a day trip, but I write, edit, submit, or work on my social media instead. I am planting seeds, and hopefully one day, the harvest will come, and I won’t have to work quite as much. But I’m not there yet, so discipline is the key.

DP: Thanks for this unvarnished perspective, Amanda.

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?

AR: I wish I had understood sooner that being an author is like being a small business owner. As with any business, there are expenses and practical matters that need to be dealt with. I imagined the author’s life as all about art and creativity, and there is some of that. But the part that I love – the writing – is the smallest piece of the puzzle. I spend much more time on the business end of things – doing things that I never wanted to do that I don't enjoy, but that are necessary if I want to make progress. It is hard to get a book deal; it is even harder to get an agent. There is so much time spent on submitting, negotiating, social media and promotion. If you’re successful, maybe later on you can afford to hire someone to handle your social media, and you have an agent to submit things and negotiate contracts on your behalf. But in the beginning, you have to manage all of those things yourself – in addition to your everyday responsibilities like housework, raising children and working a full-time job. It’s exhausting and often you are spending more money than you are making.

However, not all is lost. Although being a children's book author has not been financially profitable for me so far, I have gained something worth more to me than money – purpose. If I can offer hope to a struggling parent, make a child believe in themselves, help caregivers express their love for their little ones or help families make memories together, then everything I’ve sacrificed will be worth it.


Image Source: Amanda Rowe

DP: I'll bet your book has brought many special moments for your readers.

Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

AR: I have mentioned in a few interviews that this book got picked up quickly by a publisher, and I didn’t write it intending it to be a book, so my becoming a children’s book author was unexpected. That might give people the impression that this has been easy; that is incorrect. I have been writing since I was seven years old in one form or another. I have tried and failed to have hundreds of pieces published, and I experimented with various genres of writing before becoming a children’s book author. I have also tried numerous writing methods and found that when I try to write like other people do, I get frustrated and feel like a failure. But when I write my way, I feel like I’m where I belong, doing what I am supposed to be doing. I think that’s when great art happens – when the artist allows the work to flow through them instead of trying to force it to be how they envisioned it. So often, the things I try to force do not work, and the things that I don’t plan take on a life of their own and end up being more well-received than I imagined. That doesn’t mean that I don’t need to study the craft of writing and improve my skills; I do. But I need to apply those lessons to using my voice, my way.

So, what I’ve learned is this: if you love doing something, keep doing it. If you’re not successful with it, try an alternate route. Sometimes you have to flail about a bit before you find your niche. But make sure you are using your gifts and not trying to mimic someone else’s, because that never ends well.

Life rarely works out the way we plan, but sometimes it works out better. When you let go of the way you imagined things should be, you open the door to infinite possibilities of what they could be.

Image Source: Amanda Rowe

DP: This is such a powerful perspective, Amanda. Thank you so much for sharing. 

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

AR: I am working on multiple projects right now which is not unusual for me. I am always in the middle of reading – and writing – at least three books. The project currently closest to my heart is a book that I’ve written for chronically ill children. As the parent of a child with a debilitating disease I’ve spent countless hours at hospitals and doctors’ offices. I’ve met so many other families like ours, and I want to offer them encouragement. I want to make them feel seen and understood so I wrote a book that I hope will be in hospitals and doctors’ offices someday to brighten the lives of chronically ill children and their families. Also, to express gratitude for healthcare workers, who have my utmost respect and appreciation.

DP: I look forward to news of that project coming to fruition some day. It sounds like a much needed and meaningful book. 

Thank you so much for sharing your Birth Story for IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU with us, Amanda! It's been great to have you on the blog.

AR: Thank you for having me, Dawn, and for working so hard to promote your fellow authors. I appreciate the opportunity to connect with you and your readers.

Friends, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the best way to thank an author whose insights and information have been helpful and/or intriguing to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU is available everywhere books are sold

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Amanda Rowe is a children’s book author, an academic administrator, an amateur chef, a travel enthusiast, a blogger, and a book hoarder. If There Never Was a You is her first children’s book. Her next children's book, There Goes My Heart, is forthcoming with Familius in 2024. Visit her at https://amandarowewrites.squarespace.com/


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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, 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.  


June 22, 2022

The "Showcases, Media Coverage, and Shout-Outs" Part of the Writing Life

I'm not gonna lie...it feels good when my creative work receives positive recognition—or even just a little press! In fact, I keep a running list of media coverage, here. It's a nice page to stroll through on the days I need a pick-me-up. 


Some recent media highlights include my Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series being included in a Book Riot round-up of books about sign language for toddlers, and my hometown newspaper including Lucy's Blooms in a roundup of children's books by Oregon authors.

Today I learned that the Children's Book Council included Lucy's Blooms (illustrated by Alice Brereton, published by West Margin Press) in their #LoveMakesTheWorldGoRound summer showcase. I'm quite delighted that this book of my heart has been included in such an esteemed list! I hope you'll check it out. (While you're there, take note of two other books in particular: Made for Me and The Proudest Color, two fantastic books published by Familius, the publisher of my next scheduled book.)

If you're not familiar with Lucy's Blooms, you can view/listen to the book trailer here (with original music written and performed by Maiah Wynne, the lead vocalist for Alex Lifeson's new band, Envy of None): 


 


and you can view the book reading I recorded for my book launch here:


 

Lucy's Blooms is available wherever books are sold. You can support my creative work (and your local indie bookseller) without leaving the comfort of your home by purchasing your books through Bookshop

Thanks for celebrating with me! 

June 15, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: THE THREE LITTLE SPRIGS, by Terry Ann Marsh

Hello readers! It's time to dig into another path to publication story in the latest edition of Birth Stories for Books. Today's guest is Terry Ann Marsh, author of THE THREE LITTLE SPRIGS (illustrated by Lintang Pandu Pratiwi, published by Brandylane Publishers/Belle Isle Books, July 2022.) 

by Terry Ann Marsh and Lintang Pandu Pratiwi

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Terry. I’ve enjoyed reading about your publishing journey for your debut picture book, THE THREE LITTLE SPRIGS, on your blog, and I’m delighted to be able to ask some specific questions about your experience here.  

Your online bio indicates that you’ve spent decades singing and performing for adults and kids, and that you’ve “put down the mic and picked up the pen,” transforming stories and songs from your children’s shows into submittable manuscripts. Can you share with us how the idea for this particular story originally came to be?

Terry Ann Marsh: I’d love to -- and thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of your blog!

I was contemplating the concept of fractured fairy tales, wondering if there was a fairy tale that would work for me. As an entertainer, I was always on the lookout for ideas that would not only be entertaining, but could also be used by a parent or teacher as a jumping off point for a conversation on a kid-friendly theme. I probably thought about it for a few months, and then one day I asked the big question: What if instead of using straw, wood and brick to build their houses, the three little pigs had to use a character trait to build their house. And so, The Three Little Sprigs who live in the Woodland Kingdom was born.

DP: What a fun backstory and concept for a children's book. 

I’d also like to hear more about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this book and the manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.

TAM: What a good question! I had to go back and find my original manuscript to see how long it’s been. This story took about 3 years to develop completely. I tend to really think about stories for a while before I actually start writing them, but I would have to count that as part of the process. It also went through a couple of critique groups. I think the idea of the story appealed to everyone, but it is longer than your average picture book today, so that posed a bit of a problem. I was getting a little discouraged until I talked to an author at a SCBWI conference, who said I should submit it as picture storybook, which would allow for more words (it clocks in at 1800 words!) Happily, her advice worked.

DP: Sometimes all we need is that one new idea to help a story along!

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?

TAM: My earlier manuscript had more descriptive scenes in it because I was in love with the idea of this Woodland Kingdom where everything came alive. Toadstool caps used as sleds, dandelion heads that hung in windows as curtains, daisy blankets that hugged you back -- so much fun! But the word count needed to come down. Some scenes didn’t survive and some became illustrations.


Illustrations by Lintang Pandu Pratiwi

Since it’s longer than most books in the market today, I was grateful that Brandylane Publishers allowed the story to develop completely. The Three Little Sprigs follows the timeline of the Three Little Pigs fairly closely. Instead of the Big Bad Wolf, there are Stinging Rain and Lonely Wind, who visit each house and try to blow them down, but all that takes time and words to develop. I was glad I didn’t feel the need to shorten or rush the story. 

Illustration by Lintang Pandu Pratiwi

DP: How great that you found a publisher that shared your vision for this story. 

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? 

TAM: The writer at the SCBWI conference who told me about the picture storybook form was very helpful. She loved the book and that encouraged me to keep going with a story that I loved.

DP: That's terrific. One of my favorite parts of this business is the wonderful people I've met throughout my journey and the encouragement I've received (and continue to receive) from others along the way.  

Another favorite part is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips.  Based on your years of experience performing for adults and kids, what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful events? 

TAM: My number one rule for entertaining — don’t be boring! Have more than enough material, so there are no long pauses, or gaps in your presentation. When people get nervous they tend to speak fast, so your 10 minutes of material might end up being 5! Have plenty to say, sing, act out or do.

Kids love to interact, so give them plenty to do, if possible. It’s better to say that you didn’t use all the stuff you brought, than to say you didn’t bring enough (learned that the hard way!).

DP: Great tips! I'll bet your events are loads of fun! 

Speaking of events, it’s clear that you and I share a preference for in-person events over virtual, but given that your book will launch in the midst of (a still ongoing!) pandemic, I’d be especially interested in hearing what you have found to be the most effective and meaningful way(s) to connect with young readers and book buyers during this challenging time.

TAM: This is the most challenging thing for me. Social media is definitely outside my comfort zone. Fortunately, my youngest daughter is a branding expert, and she will help me, although she assures me I am not ready for Instagram! I give myself props for developing a webpage, and getting on Facebook, although I need to be more consistent. If need be, I can jump into the world of video blogs and Zoom meetings, but I am truly hoping that by the time my book comes out (maybe April?), in-person events will be back on.   

DP: Gosh, I sure do hope so, Terry! 

One of my favorite creative experiences has been collaborating with music professionals to create original songs and videos for my picture books (you can view a recent collaboration here.) Given your decades of singing experience, do you have any plans for bringing together these two forms of creative expression?

TAM: I loved the video for your book — such a great idea!

DP: Thank you! It was such a fun project to work on. 

TAM: I will definitely use some of my music to enhance my library/school visits. I have a lot of songs that encourage activity, and they are always fun. I don’t have a specific song for Sprigs, but I do have several that I can use that will speak to some of the themes in the book. I also have one song, Kingdom of the Jewels, that I would love to see as a book.

DP: I'll look forward to that project coming to fruition one day, too.

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?

TAM: I think I would tell myself not to be discouraged because things don’t, and won’t, happen as quickly as I want them to. Being published is more of a ‘in-it-for-the-long-haul’ process. There’s a lot to learn, so enjoy the process of learning as you go. Also, writing is a very subjective craft. What one person can love, another can hate. So, stay true to what you believe in and what you want to say, and find the best way to say it. 

DP: Thanks for that, Terry. That's excellent advice. 

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

TAM: Who is the best audience for The Three Little Sprigs? The reason I like this question is because I think the book has much to offer to elementary grades. I have a 4th grade teacher friend who will be using it for her biology science this spring. I make mention of 10 different types of plants found in a forest, and ask 2 good science questions on the teacher page. Also, a book about character traits allows for very teachable moments. The last question on the teacher page is, “If you were to build a house with a character trait, which one would you use?” It can open up great discussions. 

DP: What a great response to this question, Terry. I hope your book finds its way into the hands of many young readers.  

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

TAM: I am in an advanced writer’s submit/critique cohort with SCBWI, and I submitted a book about the numbers 10—100. After the first critique last month I realized I had to deconstruct the whole thing and come at it from another angle, which I did! The result has been wonderful. I will continue with this manuscript and see where it will take me.   

DP: Best of luck with this new project, Terry, and thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for THE THREE LITTLE SPRIGS with us!

TAM: Thank you, Dawn. It was fun!

Friends, 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. It sounds like THE THREE LITTLE SPRIGS would make an excellent addition to school and classroom libraries (and it would be a great complement to LUCY'S BLOOMS if you already have that one on your shelf.) 

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Terry Ann Marsh has been a singer and entertainer for over three decades. She combined Big Band standards, blues, and show tunes in her Showstoppers & Chartoppers! Program. She then went on to write and perform The Music, Movement & ‘Magination Show! a preschool/Kindergarten-level program full of original stories, songs and skits. 

Encouraged by the success and positive feedback from her children’s show, Terry began converting the songs and stories from her live performances into book form. Now, instead of acting or singing her characters into existence, she brings them to life in the pages of her books.

Terry has a great love for theater and has performed in many shows in theaters around Baltimore, including Annie, Fiddler on the Roof and Bye, Bye, Birdie. Eventually, her love of musical theater led her to become a music teacher at Greater Grace Christian Academy, where she directed many theater productions.

Whether it be through music or her books, Terry is a storyteller at heart. She feels every song or story has a purpose – to encourage, educate and enlighten. 

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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, 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.