Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thank You Dr. Maya Angelou for Always Curing My Writers Block



Yesterday Maya Angelou passed away and it made me think about being a writer. One of my favorite quotes of hers states, "You can't use up creativity the more you use, the more you have," and I could not agree more. I write Young Adults Fiction, apparently. I never thought about genre or labels until I had self-published my first book and had to know how/who to market it. But as a writer I don't sit down and think okay let's write some YA with some action/adventure and possibly a touch of paranormal romance . No the reality of what occurs is, the uncontrollable urge to write suddenly consumes me and no matter what I'm doing bits and pieces of a story being to appear. 

Sometimes I'm blessed with a full plot but not usually. Most of the time it's an expression or a mannerism that later develops into a character. Sometimes it's just a feeling. A feeling that later becomes a reoccurring theme or the tone of the entire novel. The point is, writing is hard but more than that it is a naturally occurring thing that I know, at least for me, can't just turn on or off. 

Luckily writing my Masters thesis and having to crank out 20 page research papers has made me extremely familiar with deadlines in terms of writing assignments-it didn't however help with the creative aspect hence the dreaded writers block that so many of us encounter. So how do you get the creative juices flowing?

I have noticed the more I read the more I write and the more I write, the more I write. More characters fight for my attention and more stories fought to be told once one story is occupying my thoughts.
The issue then becomes-how do I add more hours to the day? Which all in all is a good problem to have.
Happy Writing and Cheers to an amazing human being, Dr. Maya Angelou

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Common Wish of Parents, Don't Grow Up Without Me, Author Interview with Christie Blackwell

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Author Christie Blackwell and I were introduced through mutual friend, and fellow blogger, Edi Campbell.  If you remember, a while back, Edi and I interviewed one another, check out the link below if you missed it.  Christie is an author of children's books and her first release, Don't Grow Up without me, shows a mother's love and special bond with her twin children, a boy and girl. The illustrations are too cute, and the story is one we can all relate too.  I wish I had known about this book before Mother's Day because all of my mama friends would have gotten a copy.  

Check out my interview with author, Christie Blackwell, as she dishes about turning ones dreams into action, and the need for diversity within children's literature.  And why she thinks children turning the page of actual paper books enhances their love of reading.  As always my questions will appear in orange, and Christie's responses will be in white.  

Tell us a little about yourself.  Did you always want to be an author?  What brought you to writing?  
An author…no way!  Sure, I have memory boxes full of old love notes and poems, but don’t we all!  I never planned to write.  You see, I received a degree in marketing, which I love.  Creativity and brainstorming fuel my spirit.  I enjoy coming up with ideas in my head and bringing them to life.  Think It.  Do It.  That’s my measure of success.  Up until now I’ve been creating marketing and sales plans for my account management positions over the years, then lesson and unit plans during my tenure as a teacher.  I think it’s those special 5 years in the classroom that planted the seed for my desire to write my first book.  I remember out of hundreds of books in my classroom, each year, I only had one bin of about 30 books to read to my students with multicultural characters.  Books that feature diverse characters and themes of family and love are so scarce, and it is important to me as a mother and wife to bring stories to life that celebrate the family unit.  My first book, Don’t Grow Up Without Me, was birthed after putting my children to bed one night and not being able to sleep after doing so.  I sat down at the table, and just begin to record the elements of our nighttime routine, which created the framework to my very first book.  
      You consider yourself a dreamer, and believe that true happiness is found when you work towards your dream.  Has your dream always been to be an author?  Can you tell us a little about your journey while you pursued your dream?  When you were met with adversity, what kept you going? 
The journey, well, I’ve grown fondly refer to it as the wilderness.  For me, the wilderness has included many lessons of self-discovery.  I’ve learned so much about myself, the desires of my heart, and the impact I want to leave on this world.  The journey has become less about me and more about how I can be a blessing to others.  That’s really the driving force behind my self-publishing company.  It’s important to me that I create stories for our children with images that reflect our diversity.  I haven’t always dreamed of being an author, but I have always had a desire to make an impact in the lives of our young people.  I think focusing on literacy and love is a great way for me to make a difference.  Over the years, I’ve had many dreams and now that I’m looking back and connecting the dots, they were all related, almost like stair steps.  Each dream led me to action, which in turn led me to my next dream.  Had I never become a teacher, I would have never really known the need for multicultural literature, and thus never decided to write my first book.  I’ve kept building and moving towards the visions that are placed over my life.  When I feel a certain tugging in my spirit, I go towards it every time. When I see a door open, I go through it trusting God every step of the way.  I remain prayerful and ask each day that He leads me towards the calling over my life and shows me what I am to do that day.  Each day, I commit to do one thing that moves me towards my dreams and visions for my life.  When I’m met with a stumbling block, I acknowledge it, and plan my way around it!  I don’t get stuck there.  It’s not easy, but in the end, it’s worth it!
What is your favorite book? How has it influenced your writing?
I absolutely love Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee.  The book is simply written, and a beautiful story that shows no matter how frustrating parenting can be, there is no love greater than that of a parent and child.  I enjoy stories like this, and I want to show in my writing that very special bond between parents and their children.  I am fascinated by the eternal nature of love and its unconditional presence. 
In your book Don’t Grow Up Without Me the theme of family is huge, why do you think that is an important message to convey in children’s literature?
I believe children need to grow up with an appreciation for family.  Yes, the family unit, may look different across households, but every child needs to know that it is this very support system that helps make them into responsible adults. 

Tell us a bit about Don’t Grow Up Without Me.  Where did the idea for your book originate?

It’s what I do!  Each night, I tuck my children into bed, and say a special prayer for them.  I stay with them until they fall asleep, sometimes holding their hands, other times laying on the floor until it’s safe to leave and not wake them.  After a hectic day, it’s this moment that rejuvenates me and encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing for them, for their legacy.  Don’t Grow Up Without Me is a beautiful story of a mother’s love, faith, and desire to see her children grow up!  That mother is me, right down to the illustrations that were all drawn from our family’s photographs. 
Do you prefer e-books or paper books?
 I enjoy e-books and find them extremely convenient, but I am still a big fan of paper books, particularly for my genre.  I want children to be able to snuggle up with a good book and share in that reading experience with their family and friends right next to them.  For me, turning the pages of a good book in hand, just makes the experience more memorable and sets a firm foundation for the appreciation of reading. 
Any advice for authors looking to publish?
Do the research!  Authors need to know what is traditionally done in publishing and how they will compete and carve out their niche. Developing and implementing a marketing plan that supports the book is crucial to the book’s success!

Any other books in the works?
Absolutely!  Don’t Grow Up Without Me shows you the special bond between a mother and her children.  But what about Dad?  I can’t wait to show his perspective in my next book.   

Want more from Christie?  Check out her links;

About Christie Blackwell:   She is a dreamer.  She believes that true happiness is found when you work towards your dream and live a life of purpose.  By day, she encourages educators to create engaging, interactive lessons for their students.   By night, she snuggles up with her husband and two children, one daughter and one son, taking in all the joy they bring to her life.  She enjoys teaching and motivating others to have a vision and do something every day to make their dreams a reality.  Christie is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and graduate of The University of Georgia.  Hope is her center and prayer is her foundation.

Monday, May 19, 2014

SXSW May Collaboration: The Delicate Balance That Is Being A Mother & An Author





 In lieu of Mother’s Day, Shannon Barczak and I decided to write this months article on what it is like being an author and a mom.  Thanks to a viral video that circulated last month, we can all concur that being a mom is the toughest job in the world.  Shannon and I added to this work load by writing, editing, formating, publsihing, and marketing our own YA trilogies.  Why, is a quesiton I get alot, or even more often, how?  How is it possible that when I was already juggling so many other things  like, potty training, cooking, cleaning, raising two children under the age of five, did I also throw in more to the mix?

Well the basic answer is, I needed to.  I wrote the first book of my trilogy, Harlow Whittaker & The Soothsayers, when my oldest son was living his first year of life.  Newborns sleep a lot, and coming into the new role of mother, being home all day, when I was used to the insane schedule of a grad student, where I was home less than I was at school/work was a rough transition.  Being able to sort through all those feelings of letting go of my old life and embracing the magically one that is being a parent, was something I did through writing.  Dreaming up an imaginary world that pulled imagery from the beautiful moments I was experiencing with my son was therapeutic.  In a lot of ways my first book is a scrapbook of my son's first year of life.  

After I wrote the book it sat there, and it wasn't until after my second sons first birthday that I even felt like I could publish the first book.  Writing had always been there, as a way for me to escape, and it was free therapy, so I had already written the second book, the summer after I gave birth to my youngest.  So after having two books sitting there it was like, what are you waiting for, put these out in the world.  If nothing else at least they could serve as an escape for other new moms out there who are stuck on the couch breastfeeding and are sick of re-watching all the shows on their DVR.  

There is not really a method to my madness, my boys are 4 and 1.5 so no school for them.  I write when I have an hour, or more likely 20 minutes here and there.  The great thing about writing is that I can easily take my laptop out on the patio while the boys are playing, or sit it on the kitchen island while their eating a snack and just go.  I did a radio interview recently and the interviewer was  commending my discipline, how forcing oneself to sit and crank out the pages took so much discipline.  And up until that moment I had never seen it that way.  I write because there are these characters in my mind begging to get out, so when they start knocking I start writing.  If there's a screaming baby or two, then I jot down notes on whatever piece of paper is handy, sometimes in crayon because that's all that is around and when things have quieted down, (Popsicles work wonders-for me and the kids. Sidenote: I'm on a homemade coconut milk popsicle kick right now) I make sense of my notes and form coherent ideas that can be comprehended by my readers.  The truth is, somedays I'm wearing the same dirty pajamas from three days ago that are covered in more mystery stains than I would care to admit because we've run out of clean clothes and clean dishes for that matter. My hair has cereal bits in it, cereal that we ran out of a week ago and I've gotten a total of four hours of sleep over the course of two days.  Obviously there is no writing on those days and that's okay, I don't force myself to sit and write because my first job, the only job that matters are my children.  Anything and everything else can wait.

I guess the short answer is, I have always wanted to be a published author, just like I have always wanted to be a mom and thanks to support of my husband, in each aspect lol, I get to do both.  Is it difficult at times? Of course, but that means it is worth it right?
 









Shannon:

In honor of this being the month that we give thanks and admiration to our mothers and the woman that inspire us, Valerie and I decided to do an article that discusses the lovely balancing act of being a mother and a writer. I think that this will be interesting considering both she and I have children that are different ages. Valerie's children are much younger and I am in awe of the fact that she would even start such an ambitious project of writing a trilogy!
Let me start out by saying that there is nothing in this world more important to me than my children. There is no chapter that has to be written or Tweet to respond too that will ever take precedence over the needs of my three kids. Do I think that this can be a challenge sometimes? Yes, of course it can be. Writers are artists and when we have the urge to write it is generally something we should act on immediately. What people don't understand is that writing a book is not a nine to five job. You don't just sit down and it flows from your mind onto paper or the computer screen. I wish that were the case but sadly it is not. Finding the time to write a book or even one chapter can be a struggle sometimes when you're a mother and I am horribly lucky to have three amazing children that truly do appreciate what I am trying to accomplish.
My twin boys are fifteen and they are at the age where they don't need their Mom as much anymore but I will say that they have been my biggest cheerleaders. Every day they ask me how my books are doing and how my writing is going. I also love the fact that when I am working they make a conscience effort to help keep their little sister entertained. I can't imagine even trying to write a book when they were younger, to be honest, I barely remember the first year of their life. Having twins was the greatest and most rewarding challenge I have ever been given. Some days I was just happy to survive those first few years of their lives!
My daughter is seven years old and a total mama's girl. I have had to make an extra effort to try and give her the attention she needs at this age. It hasn't been easy but I have come up with a completely crazy schedule that may not work for everyone but it works for me and that's all that counts. My day starts off at 6:00 am with getting the kids up and ready for school. After driving them, I come home, do a few chores and go to bed for a few hours. I then pick them up, do the homework thing and we have our together time before dinner. After the whole dinner, bedtime chaos is over that is when I usually write and I'm up to about 1:00-2:00 am.
Yes, I know, my sleep pattern is a little insane but I refuse to forfeit any of my time with my kids. I don't work that much on the weekends and if I'm editing I try to be in bed by midnight. I have always been a night owl so honestly this really makes my household flow pretty seamlessly. I'm lucky that my children are old enough to be understanding of what I need to do and I think with everything in life, you have to find what works best for you and your family.
I'm also fortune enough that I have the ability to be a stay at home mom/writer. My husband and I made the decision a long time ago and we have never once regretted our choice. I think I picked the perfect time in their lives and in mine to finally pursue my dreams. I simply wasn't ready years ago and I don't think it was meant to be until now. I feel like everything has fallen into place and I am having the most personally fulfilling time of my life right now.
Every woman knows that it is not easy being a mother and having to wear so many different hats. I also think there is an extra hormone that we absorb when we are pregnant and that is the guilt hormone. We always worry about our children and their happiness before our own but as your kids get older you start to realize that a happy mom makes for happy children. Your kids do not care if there are dishes in the sink or laundry that needs to be folded. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed and tired just think how great it is that as writers we have the ability to vent our feelings and frustrations out on some poor unsuspecting character in one of our books!