PUBLISHING MILESTONES: Celebrating the Journey in Special Ways

What do you do to celebrate special milestones in your publishing journey?  Do you clink a glass of sparkly for each book or magazine piece that comes out? Do you bake thematic cookies?  Do you go out for a special dinner with your family or friends? 

I, for one, like any excuse for celebration, and while I’m not big on champagne, I have, over the years, developed several fun ways of celebrating the publication of my work – which I view as part of my legacy that I am passing on to my children. 

First, since the publication of my very first magazine piece in 1999, I have kept a binder of my magazine clips.  The binder is so thick now that I’ve now started a second.  The binders are loosely organized by alphabet and genre and date of publication and each clip is preserved in an acid-free sleeve.  Over the years, I’ve enjoyed browsing through the binders with my children and at school visits. It’s fun to see how far my writing has come since I first embarked on the journey over 20 years ago.

If you follow me on social media, you will also know that my daughter loves to celebrate my book releases by creating her own beautiful art in the form of painted ceramics, cookies and even appliqué!  And her creations make my heart sing and the non-edible ones have become part of our home decor!  Thank you, Miss A.!

Finally, for each book that has released, as well as for a couple of favorite published poems, I’ve created a little framed gallery.  So far, the gallery contains three framed poems and framed hangings of spreads from my first two picture books. 

In the busy-ness of the past year, I got a a bit behind in my framing, but am delighted to share that over the December break my dad and I finally got to my favorite frame shop, The Artist Framer in Cranford, NJ to update the gallery with framed spreads from my two most recent books, DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE and LOVE IS KIND. Here are some snapshots of the delightful morning we spent picking out matte and frames.  Thank you, Dad, for the gift of the framed art. Thank you, Stephanie, for your artistic expertise in picking out just the right combination to compliment each spread. Thank you to my publishers, Zonderkidz and Sterling Children’s Books for taking on the projects. And finally, thank you to my illustrators – Rebecca Gerlings and Lison Chaperon for working their artistic magic across the pages of these two most recent books! 

I can’t wait to bring these new framed pieces home so I can add them to my gallery.  

What you do to celebrate your publishing milestones? I’d love to hear.  Happy creating, all!

The Christmas Memory That Inspired GOODNIGHT, MANGER

Have you ever wondered what inspired the author to write your favorite Christmas picture books? Well, we can’t answer to every story, but this week I’ve teamed up with fellow Christmas picture book authors Glenys Nellist, Mindy Baker, Crystal Bowman and Elizabeth Jaeger to present five days of “What Inspired the Story?” where we’re each sharing a short video clip describing a Christmas memory or tradition that inspired us to write our books.

Today it’s my turn today to share the inspiration behind GOODNIGHT, MANGER. And if you want to be sure to hear all the others, I invite you to like/follow me and the others on Facebook and Twitter. That way you’ll be sure to see all five of us share our stories because I’ll be sharing everyone’s inspirational clips all week. Enjoy!

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO!

¡Feliz cumpleaños! That’s right today is the birthday of a very special book — the Spanish edition of LOVE IS KIND! The Spanish title is EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO and it’s published by the Spanish division of Zondervan, Editorial Vida.

I’m so excited for the release of this book for several reasons.

First, I’m delighted that the book’s special message of kindness and love will now reach an even wider audience.

Second, I just love the story in Spanish. I mean what could be cuter than an earnest Pequeño Buho on a quest for chocolates for his abuelita! (And just wait until you see this new version – even the 1 Corinthians text that is found in the illustrations has been seamlessly transformed into Spanish in the new version. It’s beautiful!

Third, I have for a long time wanted to re-learn Spanish, which I spoke fluently as a five year old living in Mexico. I have always regretted that I lost my ability to speak upon return to the US- due to lack of practice. Later, after we returned from France, where I, too, became fluent, and remembering my earlier regret, I worked hard to keep up that language. Now is my chance to return to the Spanish language, in the hopes that very soon I will be able to read EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO in Spanish to a group of children. That is on my list of treasured-things-to-do! Stay tuned!

A Christmas READ. DISCUSS. DO!: Celebrate the Nativity with a Picture Book and A Puppet Show!!

This post is inspired by children’s author, Rebecca Gomez’s wonderful Read. Discuss. Do! initiative where she pairs a picture book with an engaging follow-up discussion starter and activity. Check out the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo for a wealth of creative book-themed ideas!

Now for my special Christmas edition:

Pairing a faith-based Christian picture book with an activity is a great way to spark meaningful conversations with our kids about what Christmas is really all about – Jesus!  With that in mind, here’s an activity that I created for my Sunday school kiddos last year. The activity was given as a gift, wrapped in paper and included the finger puppets along with the instructions. I instructed them not to open until Christmas Eve, but you could modify that to meet your needs.  However, keep in mind that they liked the mystery of not being able to open the gift right away. It added to the excitement.  Afterwards, I heard back from families that it was a big hit!  I think what the kids liked best about this nativity-themed activity was that it was phrased as a “special Christmas assignment” and what parents liked best about it was that it brought the significance of Christmas into the conversation in an engaging, kid-friendly way.  

If you choose to recreate this “SPECIAL CHRISTMAS ASSIGNMENT” for your family, Sunday school class, or homeschool co-op, here’s what you will need.

  1. First, ahead of time, make or order some simple nativity themed puppets – one set per child or one set per family. I ordered mine from Oriental Trading.  
  2. On sturdy paper, type up the instructions – as seen in the picture above.
  3. When it’s time to open the gift, be sure to have several of your family’s favorite nativity-themed picture books on hand.  Of course, I would LOVE if you included my nativity-themed picture book GOODNIGHT, MANGER in the mix and here are a few other suggestions (both new and old) to get you started:

GOODNIGHT, MANGER (Zonderkidz) written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by Jane Chapman.

THE LITTLE SHEPHERD (Beaming Books) written by Elizabeth Jaeger and illustrated by Irene Montano

WHO IS COMING TO OUR HOUSE? (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers) written by Joseph Slate and illustrated by Ashley Wolff

‘TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS (Zonderkidz) written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Elena Selivanova

CHRISTMAS IN THE MANGER (HarperFestival) written by Nola Buck and illustrated by Felicia Bond

GOOD NEWS! IT’S CHRISTMAS! ( Our Daily Bread) written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Lizzie Walkley

4. After reading and talking about the book, give your children the gift of time and creative materials like Legos, blocks, cardboard, markers etc. to plan their puppet show.  

5. Watch their nativity-themed productions, then marvel together at the wonder of Jesus – the real gift of Christmas!

CLOSING THOUGHT: What nativity-themed picture books would you add to my list? Thank you!

SETTING THE GEARS IN MOTION: Writerly Thoughts inspired by my Antique Clock

In addition to the little toy train (circa 1906) that was my grandfather’s and the glass box that contains a chunk of the old-fashioned soap I helped make at the local 1740s living history museum where I volunteer, one of my favorite possessions above my fireplace is the pre-civil war mantel clock that I acquired from a dear family friend 15 or so years ago.  

Pre-electric, the clock needs to be “set in motion” each week by a steady winding of the gears using a lovely antique key, followed by a a gentle sideways nudge to the pendulum.  It’s a joy and a responsibility to do this each week, for my deliberate efforts set in motion not only a delightfully soothing tick-tock as the pendulum swings and the hands on the clock move forward second by second, but also a deeply resonant hourly chime,  set in motion by means of a coiled wire that releases a hammer that strikes the chime. 

All this winding, ticking, swinging and chiming is also a weekly reminder to me that “setting the gears in motion” is an important part in the life of a writer.  Nothing happens, writing-wise or clock-wise, if gears aren’t set in motion. In fact, with an antique clock, neglecting to set the gears in motion each week, if prolonged can freeze up the mechanics, thus destroying the lovely old-fashioned tick and gong that I so enjoy. 

Neglecting to set my writerly gears in motion on a weekly, or even daily basis, can have a similar effect. Not that my writing mechanics are destroyed, but I definitely start to feel rusty, and if I don’t do at least something to keep those gears in motion on a regular basis, it takes much longer to get back into a nice writing groove -or productive “tick-tock”, as I like to think of it. 

Now, with the holiday season upon us, it might be hard to find long stretches of time to pursue writerly passions, but not impossible!  With that in mind, and inspired by my antique mantel clock, here are FIVE ways, we can keep our writing gears in motion, even when life gets busy. 

1. If writing daily through the holidays is the goal, “setting the gears in motion” might simply mean getting up 30 minutes earlier to do just that.

2. If  trying a new genre is the goal, “setting the gears in motion”  could mean something as simple as going to the library and checking out several books in that genre and using them as mentor texts so that, either now or in the new year, you will be ready to write that first draft.

3. If getting a manuscript ready for publication is the goal, “setting the gears in motion” might mean taking thirty minutes every few days to revise again… and again… and again.

4. If publication us the goal, “setting the gears in motion” can be something as preliminary and vital as researching possible publishers or agents who might be good fits for your work… and then (when ready) sending that your best pieces off!

5. If  promoting an upcoming release is the goal, “setting the gears in motion” might mean taking daily small, but proactive, steps to set up a blog tour, arrange for book store visits, reach out to your publicist to see what they are doing etc.  

“Setting the gears in motion” doesn’t have to be big and splashy. It just needs to be intentional and weekly, or even better, daily. Take it from my clock – regular devotion to the craft we love best, pays off!  

Keep ticking and have a wonderful week!

HOLIDAY GIFT IDEA: Signed (and personally inscribed) PICTURE BOOKS!

Signed picture books make wonderful keepsake gifts for the little ones in your life.  They can also be given as gifts to teachers, pastors, caregivers and more. And now you can give signed copies of  DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, LOVE IS KIND, GOODNIGHT ARK or GOODNIGHT MANGER even if you can’t make it to a signing. Here’s how – and there are TWO options.

OPTION 1: I am excited to announce that this year once again, in response to requests from readers for signed copies, my local indie book store, The Town Book Store in Westfield, New Jersey, will be offering signed, personalized copies of my books for sale.

If this interests you, please call them to order the book or books you want. Be sure to explain that you would like to have them signed by the author and pass along the names you’d like included. They will take the order and do the transaction. I will then come in and sign the book or books. Readers can either pick them up in-store at no extra charge, or have them mailed. There will be a shipping fee to cover the cost of mailing, but they can give you those details.

I thought this was a nice way to make signed copies available and support a wonderful independent book store.  Their number is: The Town Book Store (908) 233-3535. You can also email the owner, Anne, at anne@townbookstore.com.

OPTION 2: If you would prefer to order the books through your own local bookstore (which is wonderful too!), you can contact me via the contact tab (which is nestled under the About heading) and I can send you signed and personalized bookplates.  You will need to send me a business sized SASE (stamped and self-addressed envelope) and the names you want inscribed, but we can figure that all out via email. It’s that easy!

Happy reading and gift giving!

CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS: The Inspiration behind GOODNIGHT, MANGER

Last week I had the honor of sharing my writing journey before a delightfully packed hall of residents and guests at Kendal at Lexington, the vibrant continuing care community where my dad lives.  The talk was enjoyed by all (me included, once I got over my butterflies), especially because it was accompanied by a colorful slide show.  The favorite slide by far was this one depicting two tender moments that inspired me to write GOODNIGHT, MANGER.

On the left, my daughter, then two, gently cares for her new baby doll, given to her by my mother on her birthday. It was with the same tenderness, just a couple of months later (and for several Christmases beyond that as well), that she would care for the little Baby Jesus that was part of our nativity set.  She’d carry him around the house saying things like, “Baby Jesus crying. It’s okay, Baby.”  Then she’d gently feed him or rock him and sing a lullaby. Before listening to her tender play, I’d never thought of Baby Jesus as ever crying. But, he was human (and God) and so he must have cried.  (And in GOODNIGHT, MANGER, He does!)

On the right, you can see what a noisy and unhappy participant my sweet daughter was in the Christmas Pageant held at her school when she was three. Moments after this picture was snapped, I scooped Miss A. up and enjoyed snuggling with my little angel while we watched the nativity story unfold together. There were plenty of angels that day, so it was just fine that she sat out, and the NEXT year she was happy to participate. I think, at barely three, she was overwhelmed by the packed chapel – just as Baby Jesus, in my story, was also overwhelmed by the bustling stable.

A third inspiration experience, not pictured above, was the sweet memory of singing lullabies to Baby Jesus with my kids. Miss A. and I even recorded ourselves doing it once, so we could share the moment with my parents who lived half a country away. You can see it here:

Finally, GOODNIGHT, MANGER was prompted by a personal desire to write a fun Christmas-themed book that would center on Christ, rather than Santa, in what has become a very secularized Christmas season. I wanted to write a Christmas story that would be fun for anyone to read, but which would point them in the direction of Jesus – the real gift of Christmas.

Here’s my closing thought for the day: With only six weeks or so until Christmas, now is the time, before the hustle-bustle of the holiday season sets in, to be thoughtful and intentional about how you will share the story of Christmas with your little ones. 

With this in mind, over the course of the next few weeks, I will be sharing ideas new and old describing different ways families, teachers etc. can share the Christmas story with their children in vibrant and engaging ways. And I, of course, would be honored if GOODNIGHT, MANGER makes your list of Christ-focused stories to share with your children this Advent Season.  Blessings all! 

And the Winner is…

I’m delighted to announce that the winner of last week’s special giveaway,  a brand new copy of GOD’S BLESSINGS OF FALL is…

Janice H!!

Congratulations!  I will be in touch with you today so we can get the book to you.

Thank everyone who took the time to comment. Happy reading and writing, and remember to enjoy all the gorgeous blessings of fall!

PUMPKIN TIME: Thoughts to Inspire Your Writing

I have always loved pumpkins. There’s something about their shape, color and flavor that makes me happy.

Here’s the proof:

1. When I was little I requested pumpkin pie instead of cake to serve at my seventh birthday party. (My mother honored the request but wisely also baked a cake because it turns out not all children like pumpkin pie at birthday parties.)

2. I’ve always enjoyed carving jack-o-lanterns, then toasting and eating the seeds.

3. I dressed my children up as jack-o-lanterns when they were babies.

4. I once did a picture book photo shoot in a pumpkin patch!

5. I currently have a pumpkin-themed picture book manuscript that’s out on submission with a handful of publishers.

5. This blog has not just one, but TWO pumpkin-themed posts!

That last bit of evidence (the two blog posts one) also proves that pumpkins don’t just make me happy, they also getting me thinking about writing and how we can make ours better. So, now, without further delay, I’d like to inspire your writing this week with my two pumpkin-themed blog posts. Pick the one that grabs you first, or read both. Either way, have a WONDERFUL pumpkin-inspired writing week!

My first pumpkin post focuses on pumpkin bread, (Yum!) with a writerly takeaway about the importance of conflict in baking good stories. It was inspired by forgetting to stir in a key ingredient. Can you guess what it was? Find out here: Pumpkin Bread: Thoughts on Baking Good Stories.

My second pumpkin post focuses on the pumpkins themselves and how the stories we write are like pumpkins. Curious? Then pop on over and enjoy this post: Pumpkin Time: Thoughts on Carving Stories.

P.S. Final thought: My daughter celebrates her birthday this week can you guess what she’s requested for her birthday breakfast? Pumpkin bread! The apple (I mean pumpkin) doesn’t fall far from the tree (I mean patch) does it? Just saying. =)

GOOD NEWS: New Picture Book Deal!

I’ve been keeping this to myself for a little while, but the announcement ran in Publishers Weekly yesterday, so I think I can finally let out exuberant, “Baa-aaah!”

Thank you, Beaming Books, for taking on this project, one of my favorites. I can’t wait for you all to meet Little Ewe and share in her adventures as she counts her way farther and farther from Shepherd. You won’t have to wait too, too long. The book releases in November 2020!

Here’s my writerly takeaway from this latest fun news: Keep writing.  Keep subbing. Keep honing your craft.  Be true to yourself and good things will come.  Happy writing all!