The seasons of my life…

I seem to have a blogging season.  Usually I rev up in February, blog great through the spring, get caught up in the retail/school season with author visits and selling Usborne Books & More, disappear by the end of the year, regenerate in January and begin again.

This year I’m starting late.  BUT, I’m happy to announce that a project I’ve worked on for 12 years (almost 13) is complete.  LaunchPAD Children’s Museum in Sioux City, IA is finally open!  12 years ago I brought the proposal forward to our local Junior League. Three other moms jumped on board to help.  Though it was originally going to be a League project, we broke away a few years later to work on this multi-million dollar project.  I’ve poured a ton of hours into it and often called it my unpaid job.  But it’s complete, and I’m very proud!

So far, the numbers are exceeding our projections.  If you build, they will stampede, should be our moto.  It’s been a hopping place.  But my job is done.  Our mission was to bring a child-friendly, learning environment with 100% play to Sioux City. My kids might be too old for it now, but seeing the smiles on all the kids faces made it worth it.If you are in the area, stop by! Children required. 🙂  But I promise, you’ll love the giant Lite Bright.

I finally have room back in my brain to now turn my attention to my other dream. I’m writing regularly again, and going through and retraining/teaching myself all the amazing things I’ve learned the past few years. I’m doing a lot of editing on older stories that were close, but not yet there.  I hope this is my year to break free, and share my voice.  Look for more updates! And thank you for those who never stopped believing.

I’m excited to begin this journey doing author visits again. Next week I’ll be in Boyden, IA for their literacy conference. I can’t wait!  Then I head to Wild, Wild Midwest in Chicago where I’ll get to celebrate my birthday!

Thanks for following my journey and keep checking back!




Latkes! Latkes! Latkes! And Matzah Ball Soup

It’s almost time for the Sioux City annual latke dinner.


Yummm!!!!  Again this year, I’m in charge of publicity. So, I’m shouting to all:


November 8
11:30 – 5:30 pm

Congregation Beth Shalom (it’s off Jackson)

Taste delicious potato latkes with all the fixings. I like mine with sour cream.

Sip homemade broth while you dig into mouth watering matzah balls.

Binge on Apple Cake.

Help spread the word.

For more info, you can find us on Facebook:

I hope to see you there! Bring your friends!

When your story isn’t your story…

Yeah, it happens. You write a story. You force a character to be one way to make the story work, but then after rounds and rounds of edits you keep getting the same feedback…. Somethings wrong.

Just happened to me and I finally realized that my story is being forced.  This is kind of like the kill your darlings, except you realize you have two totally different stories happening and are forcing one story to fit into the other because the center point of your story really is just a cool device of the imagination.

After SCBWI-IA and listening to Susan Campbell Bartoletti (, I finally got the courage to rip the story in two. Literally. The story has two great elements. But they don’t go together. However, on their own they lead into two very different stories.

Susan said, and I don’t quote directly, but close: I never waste anything.  She talked about how she takes something from a journal, daily poem, abandoned story, or writing exercise and recycles it.

I’m so glad I listened! And even happier I attend conferences.

What do you do when your story isn’t working?

My first play!

A while back I was approached to write a play for the youth theatre camp.

“Sure,” I thought. I used to write plays as a kid. I love writing dialogue. Let’s take a stab at it. How hard can it be?

Yeah, famous last words. Plays and picture books are a bit different. A bit? a BIT?  OK, a lot.

Oh, another thing, it needed to be able to cast up to 100 kids! What? 100 kids?! At first I thought, I need tons of extras… let’s see, I can have 10 – 20 squirrels. But then I remembered when I was in plays and felt like I was always an extra. There are up to 73 speaking roles. Some can be combined if needed. And of course, there are the non-speaking roles for younger kids who just want stage time.

Amazingly though, I did it!  And the kids and director are having a blast with it.

nigh at the library cover

The play is a cross between “Night at the Museum” and the TV show “Once Upon a Time.”  I do have plans to turn it into a middle grade. It’s very silly. The characters were a ton of fun to work with, and it was a great exercise in character development through dialogue.

Here is a sneak peek:

After the library closes, the mice statues wake up and are ready to start the night.

MOUSE 1: Is she gone?

MOUSE 2:   I think so!

MOUSE 3:  Storytime!!!

PROFESSOR ME-OW:  Excuse me. I’m in charge, and I say no storytime for you.

MOUSE 1: But we ARE in a library.

MOUSE 2:  When you are in a library, you have to read.

MOUSE 3: It’s true. It’s an official rule.

PROFESSOR ME-OW: Well, fine. But please put the books back when you are done

MOUSE 1: Of course.

PROFESSOR ME-OW: And don’t forget to close them!

MOUSE 3: Loosen up cat. We know the drill.

MOUSE 1 & 2:  Storytime! Storytime!

– – –

The play is scheduled to be performed June 12, 13 and 14th at the Sioux City Community Theatre.

Mommy’s Little Wordlings, Author Interview


Today I get to welcome the author/illustrator of Mommy’s Little Wordlings from Anaiah Press, Linh Nguyen-Ng. This is Linh’s debut picture book, and it’s one every mom will want to cherish. Welcome and congrats Linh!

Author Pic_Nguyenng_32315

About the Book:

Little words hold big meanings. The Little Wordlings are children who use their simple words to express their feelings for loved ones. No one is more adored than the first person who made them smile. No one is more cherished than the person who gave them life. There is no one like Mommy. Join the Little Wordlings as they show Mommy how much she is appreciated and loved.

Buy Here.

What motivated you to write this book? I feel like it is an ode to mothers.

My motivation was that I became a new mom to two little kids. The book is like an ode to a mother. I find that appreciation and recognition for a mother or any parent are lacking these days. I wanted to create something that touched the core of a mother’s heart. I wanted to show her—my mother—that I’m grateful for her love and guidance, and that because of her, my dreams have come true.

Who is your audience?

My audience is children ages 3-7. But I think adults would appreciate the message of the book as well. I think children will be more drawn to the illustrations, whereas adults can appreciate the poetic message.

What was your publication journey like?

Like most authors, I wrote several manuscripts and sent them out to publishers and agents hoping they will love them. But with this manuscript, I did something different. I participated in a Facebook pitch to Anaiah Press. My book was all set to go with illustrations too, so the opportunity presented itself and I was fortunate that it got requested and was offered a contract.

The title fits the pictures! Tell us about the journey with the illustrations. Which came first, the text or the illustrations?

The illustrations came first. Then I wrote the manuscript. Then I drew some more. After reviewing the words and illustrations I would tweak what was necessary. Sometimes words are cut, and other times, drawings are revised.

Tell us about your editing process.

I don’t really mind the editing process because I know I am refining the story. I am merely polishing it until it shines. Yes, editing can be daunting, but if you take it in chunks, then it’s ok.

What is the hardest part about writing for you?

In the beginning, I was a pantser. Now I’m a plotter. My new frustration is learning to streamline. Sometimes having too many ideas float in your head is not beneficial when you’re writing a novel, especially if you don’t follow an outline. Things can get messy and all over the place. Now I make outlines for everything. They’re flexible outlines, enough to give me guidance but also allow room for creativity.

What is your favorite part about the writing journey?

I love meeting my characters. It’s like casting my own movie. The whole creative process is fascinating. As I write, I often surprise myself at the things that form in my head. Writing makes you think, and thinking makes you appreciate what’s around you.

What advice do you have for other authors?

Keep writing what you love. When you love something, it will show in your work. Somehow that love-infused work will find its way to the right publisher one way or another.

What’s next?

What’s next is writing more stories. I am working on a young adult novel and a Daddy version of MOMMY’S LITTLE WORDLINGS. It would be wrong to leave daddy out of the picture, right?

And finally, tell us about your Mom!

My mom told me to go to school, stay in school and study hard. Then use what I’ve learned to follow my dreams. I did all of that, and here I am.

A mother’s love is not always firm, it is adaptable to the changing phases of her children. My mom was that person.

So thank you Mommy!
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Don’t forget to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway!

More about Linh:

I live with my family in Massachusetts where I get to enjoy the four seasons. I love unique and interesting things—things that make a lasting impression. I am constantly looking for inspiration that I can use in my writing. Everything has a story to tell.


Twitter: @linhnguyenng




SCBWI-Iowa is almost here!!!!

If you are still on the fence, it’s not to late. Attending your regional SCBWI conferences is one of the best things you can do for your writing career. They are smaller then the bigger conferences, and you get an opportunity to actually talk with the speakers. The networking is fun and it’s great to meet other authors from your area.

If you are interested, you can find more info here:

I look forward to seeing everyone!

Writing Groove (w/Guest Blogger Miranda Paul)

I want to start out by saying I met Miranda a few years back, we were both taking an online picture book class. Then we ended up at Whispering Woods (an amazing picture book retreat with Jill Esbaum and Linda Skeers) and were bathroom buddies. She was working on this manuscript then, and it was really good. I knew she would go far. Miranda is an amazing person with a huge heart. She will change the world with her writing.  And is already making a difference in the lives of authors with Rate Your Story.

I asked her if she would do a blog post figuring I could ask her lots of deep and intriguing questions. She said yes, but she wanted to do a playlist. What is more deep and intriguing then a glance into someone’s music preferences? 

And she wanted it published today because of the significance. It’s Happy Gambian Independence Day.

So please welcome my guest blogger today, Miranda Paul! I hope you are as inspired by Miranda as I am.

Miranda Paul’s Author Playlist / Soundtrack for her new book,
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia
Guest Blogger Post: Miranda Paul


Although it’s usually young adult authors who come up with unofficial “playlists” for their novels, I wanted in on the fun. Music is a big inspiration to me, and this book is one that tells the story of an entire village where life is changing for the better. Here is a list of songs that I listened to while writing and revising One Plastic Bag, or gearing up for the book launch this weekend at my local B&N.

1.)  “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan
This video and version of the song, remade for the 2010 World Cup, is one of my go-to tunes for inspiration. One Plastic Bag was released during the same month as the Gambia celebrates its 50th Independence Day (Feb. 18, 2015). Flags are a symbolic way to rally or unify people, and this song reminds me of the Gambian flag whose colors (red, blue, green, white) stand for the sun, the river, the forest, and peace.

2.)   “Brave” by Sara Bareilles
When I interviewed the women of Njau, I asked them what the most significant change in their lives was since starting the project. Almost all of them answered “confidence.” There’s more to their stories than is included in One Plastic Bag – stories of bravery and speaking out and overcoming challenges. This song, to me, represents how through this project the women of Njau have learned to “say what they want to say, and let the words fall out, honestly.”

3.)  “Am I Wrong?” by Nico & Vinz
This music video, though filmed in Botswana, reminds me a lot of Gambia — from the “gelly gelly” public van taxis to the ingenuity of making toys out of available items to the traditional dancing. The message of “thinking outside the box” coupled with the infectious drum-beats never fails to get me jazzed up and inspired to work on a project. It’s hard for me to listen to it and not get up and dance.

4.) “Africa” (Afriki) by Habib Koité & Bamada

Years before I’d written One Plastic Bag I worked in the fair trade industry. Habib Koité’s CD came into my possession during that time and his Bambara background and language reminded me of stories that Isatou had told me about her grandfather and his sister, who had fled violence in Mali. This and other CDs became ways for me to connect to the sounds of West Africa in between travels there.

5.)  “We Are Here” by Alicia Keys

This video shows the strength of one voice and the powerful simplicity of a heartfelt message. The lyrics, which state, “We are here for all of us” remind me of how Isatou speaks when she lays out her vision for Njau, for Gambia, and the future. Just as Isatou works in Gambia to get people talking about tough issues, Alicia Keys also does in this song. It reminds me that making art — books or otherwise — is a reflection of both the outside world and our inner hope.


miranda and friend

Thanks for letting me share and I hope these songs inspire you to go out and “be the change” in your part of the world. In fact, that local book launch I mentioned isn’t just limited to locals. Anyone can participate in the online fundraiser — buy anything and use code 11517257 at checkout from 2/21-2/26 and 20% of your purchase will benefit Books for Africa, Inc. (More info here.)

Author bio:

mirandaMiranda Paul has been an avid recycler since elementary school, when she won a contest by transforming a discarded cereal box into a beautiful holiday ornament. She still loves rummaging for treasures but now spends most of her time teaching and writing. Over the past decade, Miranda has traveled to the Gambia as a volunteer teacher, a fair‐trade and literacy advocate, a freelance journalist, and more. Miranda lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with one husband, two kids, ten bookcases, and a hundred new ideas. Find her online at and find out more about this book at

Debut Author Interview, Mardi Gras Style!

This week we are so excited to welcome debut picture book author Keila Dawson! Keila’s book, The King Cake Baby, is her debut picture book. And she’s having the best author tour ever! With a book fit for New Orleans and Mardi Gras, she’s gotten to spend time signing books in the city of crawfish, purple and gold beads, and of course, King Cakes! Thank you Keila for stopping by my blog to answer some questions. I am so excited for you and your book.



What inspired this book?

The inspiration to write THE KING CAKE BABY came from two different experiences. The first inspired me to seriously consider writing. It happened while on a trip with girlfriends.  We all shared things we’d always wanted to do but had not accomplished. I said I wanted to write a children’s story and have it published. But I didn’t have an idea.  The second experience inspired the story idea.  In January 2013, just like the old woman in the book, I decided to make a king cake during Carnival season. When I went to the kitchen drawer to get the baby that belonged inside the king cake, I couldn’t find one. I panicked. I wanted to mail the cake to my daughter who attended college out of state. But without a little plastic baby to hide inside, it wouldn’t be a king cake! And I said out loud something like, “I know you were in there baby where’d you run off to?” And thought, that’s it, there’s my story idea, a New Orleans gingerbread man tale retold.

How long did it take you to write it?

I wrote the first draft the same January night the idea came to me. I started subbing the manuscript to publishers by the end of that month.

How did you know which publishing house to send it to? What was your research process like?

At first I didn’t! I probably did what most newbies do who don’t know what they don’t know about children’s publishing. I looked up the names of some big well known houses and subbed. In the meantime, I found an online resource, Children’s Book Insiders (CBI). I thought CBI’s advice to find other writers to critique your work was pretty sound. With a little more research I read about a group named the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I contacted the group leader that I met in my area and she invited me to a meeting. I had no idea that meeting children’s authors was that easy! They gave me advice about how to get my manuscript submission ready and taught me how to look at a publisher’s list to determine if my story fit.

And I read other gingerbread man tales. At the time I could not find any children’s picture books set in New Orleans or any story using the little plastic baby we put inside king cakes during our Mardi Gras season.


How did you go about preparing your manuscript for submission?

I was fortunate to attend my first SCBWI meeting on the night the group designated as critique night and read my manuscript. I couldn’t believe professional authors were taking the time to help a complete newbie. And it felt wonderful to have them tell me they loved my story idea. I savored every word of advice given to improve it. They taught me about the power of three, and told me to reduce the word count by cutting scenes.  I continued to independently research and read everything I could find about these topics. Here’s the power of three I used: research, revise, repeat!

What did you learn along your publishing journey?

  • I learned how much there is to learn and how very little I actually knew. If I want to continue to publish stories with a broad appeal and not just regional appeal, I need to learn more about the craft.
  • I learned there is a lot of industry related vocabulary, like solicited vs. unsolicited, query, slush pile, spreads, spot art, etc., not to mention the physical parts of a book!
  • I learned about contracts and negotiations.  Authors must learn about the business end of publishing.
  • I learned how to establish an online author platform to include a website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. I designed my own website. It’s basic but gets the job done and I can manage it on my own. I sold my first book on LinkedIn the other day. Leave no stone unturned!
  • I learned a great deal about marketing and networking.
  • I learned authors must work jointly with their publicist and sales team to create a successful launch. It’s a give and take. No one person or group can give or take all, you must work together. Be kind, be courteous, your book isn’t the only one on their list that requires promotion. Follow up is necessary, taking responsibility is smart, but collaboration is key. There goes the power of three again!

What’s next?

While in New Orleans on my book launch tour, I submitted another story to Pelican Publishing. Fingers crossed, it too will be acquired and fulfill my contract obligation. I have many manuscripts in various stages that need attention. And I am also seriously considering looking for an agent.


Thank you so much Keila and I look forward to your next book! And congrats on being #1 New Release on Amazon in Children’s Religious Holiday Books! 

It’s Almost Time for Daylight Savings Time, Skype Visit Giveaway

Tick, tick tock. It’s Almost Time.
For Daylight Savings! This year, let’s celebrate with a free Skype Visit to a classroom!

Purchase a copy of my book, It’s Almost Time, from an Usborne Books and More consultant,  or purchase the Demibooks ebook version from an Usborne Books & More website. Contact your Usborne Books & More Consultant with the subject “Daylight Savings” with your information. If you don’t have a consultant, you can contact me with a copy of your receipt. On March 8, Daylight Savings, I will do a drawing for a free 30 minute Skype visit. I will customize it for the age group. I look forward to Skyping!

The Story Catcher, a Debut Tale

Don’t forget to enter for your chance to win a free ITUNES card courtesy of Anaiah Press, plus more!

Donna Martin could catch a lot of things! Butterflies. Snowflakes. She could even catch a cold. But one day she caught a story. She wrote it. And she sold it.

“Will I ever be an author?” asked Donna.

“Yes Donna! You are!”

The Story Catcher BT Banner-1

I’ve watched Donna on Facebook the past few years. She is a member of over 15 Facebook writing communities. She is always very involved, very helpful, and very positive. So when she asked for reviewers for her book, I leaped at the chance. I knew it would be something magical! And I have to admit, the title caught me.

The Story Catcher is about a little girl who wants to catch a story. She, like my own children, loves to be read to. But she wants to do more. She wants to read (catch) the story on her own. It is a very sweet story that all children learning to read will relate to.

Donna herself comes from a long line of readers. Her older sister Janet helped her learn to read. And Donna’s own son, Randy, was reading by age four.

Donna Martin-1

A couple years ago, Donna was a READ TO ME volunteer at one of the local elementary schools. She worked with one little girl who: “really struggled to understand the wiggly words on the pages of her favorite book, despite the fact everyone in her family read to her all the time.”

But the little girl didn’t give up, and by the end of the year she was reading on her own.

Donna, what was the hardest part of the writing THE STORY CATCHER?

Realizing it was based on a true experience I witnessed. I can’t imagine a world without books and whenever a child tells me they DON’T like to read, I have to wonder if it’s because they or someone in their family has struggled with being able to read in the past and maybe that is why they turn their backs on the magical world of stories.

Though this is Donna’s first published picture book, she is also a contributing author in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: ANGELS AMONG US, and has also published poetry.

How long did it take you to write this book?

I actually wrote the first draft in a couple of days. But it went through a few revisions before the final product you see in the book. Not much was changed from the submitted manuscript.

Was there anyone who helped you with critiquing/ advice in how to get it published?
When I was finished with THE STORY CATCHER, I sent it to a couple of my friends as well as submitting it to Miranda Paul’s Rate Your Story group. The comments from the judge were invaluable and helped me literally change the angle of the plot to one Anaiah felt strongly enough about to offer their contract. I read various blog posts about how to sharpen my query letter and Twitter pitches so I would have to say many, many people were responsible for helping me get my story in the hands of a publisher.

What was your subbing process like? Many rejections?

I’ve been seeking agent representation for three years now so when I finished THE STORY CATCHER, I began subbing it to various agencies. I participated in Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12 and sent it to the monthly agents with no bites. Then I decided to participate in a Twitter pitch party and within a few minutes of putting my pitch out there, I received a request from my editor, Jessica Schmeidler, to read my manuscript. From there it was a total of SIX DAYS between her reading, the book offer, my receiving the actual contract, and my signing it! it still feels surreal…;~)

Donna is currently working on her next book. What’s it about?

My next book I’m hoping to publish is a creative nonfiction story about fifty tons of chocolate, an airborne diesel train, and a sweet mystery still unsolved more than fifty years later. I’m calling it THE CHOCOLATE TRAIN WRECK and I’m just starting to submit it to select agents.

Donna is excited to introduce her free STORY CATCHER FAN CLUB where people can sign up to receive their membership certificate, STORY CATCHER reading log, bi-monthly newsletter, and a short story starring THEM! Anyone interested can send an email request with their name and age to to receive their welcome kit.

Her website also includes a teacher’s CURRICULUM SUPPLEMENT to go along with THE STORY CATCHER.

Congrats Donna on catching your dream! Here’s to many more books to follow.


Click to win a Anaiah Press is giving away a $20 iTunes Gift Card  from Anaiah Press or a beautiful journal from Donna L. Martin.

Follow the Link for a Rafflecopter giveaway


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