Monday, November 16, 2015

A Bit of Good: Update on the Library Project

With all the terrible things that have happened throughout the world over the past few days, it can be easy to forget that there is good in the world, too. While I know it doesn't change what happened, or fix things for those who are suffering right now, I want to tell you about a little of that goodness.

Last week I reached out to you--to the world of social media. I didn't know what to expect, but you all blew me away between the sharing of my post, the offers to send books, and the monetary donations. I haven't received the books yet, so I can't show you a picture of that, but here's a peek at the GoFundMe page:

People are good and kind and generous. They reach out to strangers. They offer help in the ways they can. People I didn't even know donated money. People I've never met are shipping off books.

Thank you! Thank you so much for being you. For being generous humans who spread good in the world. Thank you! I can't express how touched I've been at your support.

For any who would still like to participate, we will be collecting books and donations over the next couple of months. For more information, please visit the original post that explains it all.

Now, one more thing. My 11-yo wanted to write in support of the cause, and I promised I would post it for him:
Dear readers,                                                                          
                Hello. To you readers, I ask you this, how would you feel if you had almost no books to read? I would feel devastated, it would make me less curious, although that might not sound bad to you, take some time to imagine what that amounts to: . . . now that you have thought about it, I hope you realize the full gravity of helping those children on Kiribati.
                Imagine how thankful they'll feel to have such a great gift to enjoy and share. I hope you know to expect nothing but an unseen and unheard thank you along with the knowledge that you helped someone besides yourself.
                I sincerely hope now that you will help those children.
                                                            11-yo. J. 

Before I leave you, I want to give a heard and seen THANK YOU for your help.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

You ARE making a difference in these kids' lives.

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Sad Little Library and a Call For Help

Those of you who know me well know that my parents left on a religious mission just over a year ago about a month after they retired.

Before retirement, my Mom was an elementary school principal and my dad was a high school engineering and science teacher. So it was only fitting that in their service, they went to work in a high school on a tiny island in the Pacific called Kiribati.

While their main purpose is to train the teachers and help them pass the certification testing (Mom and Dad, correct me if I'm wrong!), they also do all kinds of other things such as helping students fill out applications for college, judging school competition events, overseeing the computer lab, and most recently evaluating the school library to determine its needs.

This last duty is what I wanted to talk about to you today.

You see, the state of that school library makes me sad. They sent pictures, and I want to share those with you. This first one is a picture of their fiction book shelves:

Oh my goodness, just so much emptiness.

And not only are the shelves empty, but many of the books they have aren't age appropriate and are falling apart.

Now, I love the Berenstain Bears, and I love Madeline, but they are not the books I would choose to put in a high school library.

This is not something I could let go. I read their blog post early Sunday morning, and I couldn't stop thinking about this library.

It didn't take long to decide that my family and I would work together to collect some books and send a package. But you saw that picture. The package we could send would make nary a dent in the library's needs.

And then I got to thinking that maybe others would like to help, too. Because you are my people. You understand how important books are. You understand their power and influence. You understand the impact a book can have on a teen. You understand how important it is to offer a wide variety of books to get our youth on that path of reading. You understand the satisfaction that comes from finding that book . . . the one that speaks to you and changes your life.

And that is why I'm asking for your help today. There are several ways you can help:

  1.  If  you have any gently used or new books that would be appropriate for middle or high schoolers and which you would be willing to send to me, please contact me using the Contact Me tab above (or just click on that link).
  2. If you don't have any books to send, but would be willing to donate money to the cause, I have set up a GoFundMe account. I will use any donated funds to both buy books and help pay for the shipping costs (which are HUGE). Even a dollar donation will make a difference!
  3. If you have no extra money or books to share, I totally get that. I have been there (man, have I been there). What you can do is spread the word! Share this post on twitter or facebook. That would be a huge help!
I plan to send a shipment (or 2 or 3 or however many I'm able) at the beginning of December in hopes that they will arrive before the start of their next school year (Jan/Feb). 

Seriously, if you can't help, please don't feel even the teensiest bit of guilt. We can't all do everything, and there are a lot of great causes out there. I appreciate that you are here reading my blog post, and I appreciate your friendship.

Thank you for listening, now go forth and have a great day!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Top 5 Writing Things I learned from the Royals

I recently moved from Kansas City. If you're not into baseball, you may not have heard, but this little thing called the World Series just took place, and GUESS WHO WON!!!

The Kansas City Royals!!!!

KC Union Station's Celebratory Facebook Post: Link here

So I know, I know. Many of you writing types may not really care that the Royals won the World Series. And that's okay. I still love you. In fact, I haven't always been a baseball fan myself - but last year's team converted me.

I have learned so many things from the Royals and everything that came from both last year's World Series and this year's. And the really great thing?  It ALL APPLIES TO WRITING (goodness, it applies to LIFE). So here is my top 5 list of things I learned from the Royals:

1. It's not over till it's over (aka NEVER GIVE UP).

I may be beating a dead horse here, because I feel like I talk about this All. The Time. But it's true! The Royals set all kinds of records this postseason with this mentality. Take Game 5. Down by 2 going into the ninth. They come back to tie and send the game to extra innings (where they WIN)!

Or take Game 4. Down by 1 in the top of the 8th. They score 3 runs!

Or take this stat: In the post season alone, the Royals scored 51 runs in the 7th inning or later. 51!! The last time a team even came close to that was back in 2002 (the Anaheim Angels with 36).

DON'T GIVE UP, my friends! Just don't.

2. You can lose and still win (I know! doesn't sound possible, does it?).

This is circa last year's World Series. It was so hard to make it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series and then come away with a loss. (So Mets fans, we feel your pain! We really do). But despite that loss, that team - just a bunch a young guys who no one expected to even get to the play-offs, let alone the World Series, whose game and efforts were all heart - that team brought a whole city together.

It's really hard to describe if you aren't there. But everyone was united in their love for the Royals. Everyone. People who had never watched baseball before, watched baseball. We were high-fiving strangers in the streets, chatting up the amazing plays, comparing notes and plans for where to watch the next one. And wait did I say "strangers"? It was like the word "strangers" didn't even exist!) All extra-curricular activities that got in the way of a game was cancelled, which everyone was happy about. It. Was. Awesome.

We may have lost the World Series last year, but we gained so much more. And the same is true for writing. You may have gotten a rejection. But that rejection will push you to be better (if you let it). You are that much closer to a YES, and all the while, your writing is improving. You win, because you are still trying.

3. A series of small successes (plays) can lead to HUGE THINGS.

This Royals team is not about huge plays and homeruns and star players. Nope. It was about teamwork. About getting a guy on base and then getting another guy on base until someone made it home. It was about sacrificing yourself to get your teammate across the plate.

Of course, Perez (who is awesome!) got the MVP, because an MVP has to be given. But  that MVP could have gone to any of them. And did you know that every single player on the team contributed? They all played. Every last one player on that post-season roster. And that is not always the case.

The point is, you don't need to be writing best-sellers or getting the million dollar advances to succeed. Every single little success along the way adds us. Sell an article to a magazine? Celebrate your success! Get a request from an agent? Celebrate your success! Slow and steady wins the race.

4. Sometimes, you have to take a risk.

Just one word. Hosmer. Holy cow, that baserunning!! What guts! And if you missed it. Ninth inning of Game 5. We are down by two. Hosmer gets a double RBI then gets to third on a groundout. Perez is up to bat and hits one straight to the Wright, the 3rd baseman, who stares down Hosmer before throwing an out to 1st.

But oh no. Hosmer was NOT stared down. As soon as Wright turns to throw, Hosmer is off! And the 1st baseman is caught off guard and guess who scores to tie the game??? Ninth inning, two outs. Hosmer takes the risk!

I have read plenty of critiques of that play: Hosmer's lucky the throw was bad. He shouldn't have done it, but I guess it worked out. Haha! Life is sometimes a risk. Let me tell you a quick story about the guy who didn't take the risk in Game 7 of last year's World Series. Ninth inning, down by one, two outs. SO. MANY. PARALLELS. The guy stayed on 3rd and guess what? We lost.

Writing is a risk. Putting yourself out there is a risk. But it is worth it. Be fearless, my friends!

5. Niceness is always a thing. Everyone roots for the nice guys.

One of the reasons I have loved watching the Royals so much is because the players, the team . . . they are straight up nice. Even people who weren't Royal's fans were rooting for them. And it was because they were nice. And because their fans were nice. (And yes, there are always exceptions, in case you know that one not nice fan. But you get my point.)

Be nice. Treat people nicely. Editors. Agents. Other Writers. Fans. Not fans. Everyone. You will always come out the better for it.

If you made it this far, thanks for letting me rave about my Royals! Do you watch baseball? Did I miss any lessons in there??

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Learning Curve of Publishing

It's no secret that I've been on this ride of wanting to be published for a long time. And the longer you are in something, the more you learn about it. Bit by bit you gather information and before long you are no longer a newbie.

By the time I found my agent, I was quite expert at drafting query letters. I knew the best places to track the query letters I sent to agents ( in case anyone was wondering). I knew what writing conferences I liked best. I knew what to expect timing wise, and I was the one answering questions for those newbies who had just joined the fray.

Now that I'm on the next step of the publishing journey, I am horrified to discover that I have to start over as a newbie. Only this time, the learning curve is much, MUCH steeper since there is an actual deadline for things (oh the forgotten joy of not having a deadline!).

My head is spinning as I try to figure out marketing, and how to get my name out there and get on panels and accepted as a presenter at conferences. And let's not forget school visits, and swag, and websites. Writing tag lines. Writing author bios. Writing discussion questions. Figuring out author pictures and poses. And of course navigating the world of communicating with my publisher and editor and all the people involved there (who are fortunately very lovely people!).
The things is, I'd read so many blog posts from debut authors as they navigated the publishing world, and I'd learned so much about school visits and marketing, etc. And I had notes from conference presentations on such topics. I felt so prepared. I was SO ready for the next step! I just knew I would make it through with ease.

So I'm left scratching my head about what went wrong.
And the only thing I can come up with is that having a book published is a bit like becoming a parent for the first time. You can read all kinds of books to prepare yourself. People will tell you all kinds of truths and horror stories about "what it's really like." But it doesn't matter. The only thing that really helps you understand what it's like to be a parent is to actually BE A PARENT. And then suddenly you get it!
Not that it's suddenly easy or that you suddenly know everything. But you get it. You get how hard and complicated and unpredictable it all is. And all you can do is your best. You keep trying every day, and you learn new things. Sometimes it feels like you'll never be as good as those other parents you see at PTA meetings and stuff, and sometimes it feels like you're failing miserably.
But you aren't.
Because HEY! You're doing it! And none of that other stuff matters. What matters is that you're trying.
Because despite what Yoda says, there really is such a thing.
(And yes, this is absolutely what I tell myself when I'm feeling overwhelmed by it all . . . which is at least once a month . . . okay, weekly . . . fine! I meant daily. DAILY. Okay?? Satisfied?!) ;)

Monday, October 19, 2015

My Cover Reveal Day!!!

Today is the day!!!

The happy-dancing, random-screaming, exclamation-filled day that is otherwise known as my COVER REVEAL day!!


So one interesting tid-bit before you head over to Pop! Goes The Reader to see what it looks like (finally!!!) . . .

A secret I've been holding for a while is that Amazon has a picture of my book on its site. BUT it IS NOT THE FINAL COVER. No. You have to got to Pop! Goes The Reader for that. I don't know when it will be fixed to the final cover, but if you want to see what the ARC (Advance Reader Copy) cover looks like, you can check out Amazon, too. (And eeep! If you happen to want to pre-order it, it's now available for pre-order!)

Okay, okay, I will detain you no longer! Go forth! Check out my beautiful book cover that I'm totally in love with at Pop! Goes The Reader.

And while you're there, don't forget to enter for a chance to win an ARC of THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY by moi, Janet Sumner Johnson.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Things I Don't Know (aka Weird Research)

Writing books has been the most humbling experience of my life for so many reasons. SO. MANY. But today, I'll just talk about one: The things I don't know!

Oh, the things are vast, and many.

Silly things.
Important things.
Interesting things.
Things I SHOULD know.
Things I know I learned once upon a time.

Some of these things can be easily researched online. Some require experts (Hellooo Dr. Husband, you have been a life saver!). Sometimes I find a book on the subject. Some things require good hard study and mathematical equations (and then I'm back to seeking expert help . . . hellooo Father and Sister Mathematicians!! You're the best!).

So before I bore you to death, here are some of the things I have had to research in the name of writing, though I won't tell you why (bwahaha!):
  • The shortest number of moves with which you can win at chess
  • The history of cameras (Brownie's, etc.)
  • The history of Peanut Butter
  • Pirate clothing
  • Names and types of knives/swords
  • Regional names (first and last, for various regions)
  • How 911 dispatchers answer the phone (and no, I DID NOT call 911 to find out)
  • What EMT's do when they arrive on the scene
  • What substances on the periodic table are most unstable
  • Weird science experiments
  • Science experiments/substance combinations that might cause explosions (And everytime I did a search, I worried the NSA would be after me! Book research, I swear!)
  • How to qualify for a Nobel Prize (including nomination process and timeframe)
  • The Randall Sundrum model of string theory (it's actually pretty fascinating!)
  • Horse grooming techniques
  • Names of horse parts and wagon/carriage parts
  • Time it would take to travel to the moon/mars
  • Calculating rocket paths for meeting an object in space
  • How tasers work
  • Substances that are bad for dogs
  • Methods for extracting the essence of something
  • Snowboarding terms/skills
  • Famous snowboarders
  • How to qualify for the Olympics as a snowboarder
  • Official rules of croquet
Anyway, I could go on for a good long while. So many things I don't know! And fascinating to discover that writing isn't only about English and Grammar. Wasn't I wishing I'd taken a few more math classes?

So how about you? Are you an expert in any of the above (And if so, please inform me so I can pick your brain!)? Do you want to learn about any of these things? What is the weirdest research you've ever done?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Books from my Childhood

I've been reading the Harry Potter series to my kids, and it's been awesome. And not just because I can get them to do their chores with the promise of reading another chapter. They've loved it!

But doing so has really brought back memories of my childhood. Curled up on the floor or in my bed, listening to my mom read stories to us. I even remember staying home sick from high school (HIGH SCHOOL !!!), and laying on the couch listening to her read to me. She has been a long-time lover of children's literature, and I directly attribute my obsession with it to her.

-----> This is me way back then, so you can better imagine me sitting on my mom's lap, listening to stories.---->

There weren't nearly as many choices back then, but what there was, she found them. I wanted to mention a few, because not only have all of these amazing books have influenced who I am, but these authors were the pioneers that made what I'm doing even possible.

As a little kid, my mom read picture books to us. A few stand out in my memory as ones we made her and my dad read over and over and over. THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK by Jon Stone was the BEST.

Fear of the unknown was a real thing for me back then. (Okay, it still is.) I remember hating to go downstairs on my own, because WHO KNEW what might come out of that big pot-belled wood-burning stove down there??? And it was dark. And it smelled funny. And the carpet had this crazy brown and orange pattern that could start spinning and might HYPNOTIZE me, and what would I do then???

Point being, I got Grover. I understood! I sympathized with his fears. But I still laughed every time we turned that page, and the story got messier and messier, and the pages got rattier and rattier (both figuratively and literally because we read that book so much). I LOVED being part of the story. It was all so real. Even though of course I knew it wasn't.

And I don't want to ruin the ending for any of you who might not have read it (and if so, watch out for the Goodreads link above . . . they aren't so careful), but this book made me braver. It helped me step up my courage, and you know what? I dared go downstairs on my own (okay, maybe not at night, but baby steps, people). I dared press forward into the unknown. Because lets face it. Life is full of A LOT of unknown. This book was a real part of my childhood. One that influenced me big time. So thank you, Jon Stone for writing it! Thank you, Sesame Street Creators for making such a great character!

And I realize this is all going to take more space than one blog post can handle, so I'll just have to blog about this again. In the mean time, tell me about a book that influenced your childhood. I'd love to hear!