The Empty Spot

amazing-beautiful-breathtaking-cloudsHappy Fall Y’all! This is my entry for the Kidlit Fall Writing Frenzy contest.

The Empty Spot

196 words, Image 5, Picture Book category

This used to be our spot. On dark nights when the moon was full, we’d dash past Rachel’s feet and scurry up this tree. Full moons were the always best—especially when drifting clouds made it look like cheese. Sometimes, on nights like this, we would reminisce about the pranks we’d pulled or the ham we’d snitched from Rachel’s sandwich when she left it unattended for a minute. She loved us anyway. Even when she called us “her little stinkers.” Some nights we just sat, and rubbed our necks together.

 

I remember the day Rachel brought us home from the rescue in a cardboard box. She’d only planned for one cat, but ended up bringing us home together. Last week he stopped eating. When Rachel walked in the door with the empty carrier, I’d paced and paced. “I’m so sorry,” she’d said. Where was he? When would he be back?

 

Tonight, I sit alone. One, in a spot made for two. My purr is stuck somewhere in my chest. I wonder if it will ever come again?

 

I stare at the same moon. I sit in the same place. But nothing is the same. Not anymore.

 

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Ripples of Kindness

I’m sure all moms can remember a time when the random kindness of a stranger mattered. Maybe it was it the cashier at the grocery store playing peek-a-boo with your restless toddler so you could check out. How about the teenager who held open the door as you were struggling through with your double stroller? All of it matters. But when your a special needs mom, it really matters. I mean, really.

You see, we aren’t immune to the dirty looks or irritated sighs from people. We’ve endured the rude comments about our child making noises. So when strangers are kind–even go out of their way to help, it’s huge. I’ve seen stories in the press lately about employees at theme parks going out of the way to help kids on the spectrum who become overwhelmed. And yes, when your child is on the spectrum, even good things can cause a meltdown. Things they’ve begged for, talked about constantly, and looked forward to for months. Why? Because when that big moment finally gets here, it’s just too much. It’s overwhelming. And when they can’t process all of that stimulation, even if it’s something they’ve wanted, they can shut down.

Adam Levine gets it. So does the young lady who portrays Snow White at Disney. And the employee at Universal Studios. And, I’m so glad they do. But there are so many more people out there who still don’t get it. I’d love for people to do some research on the autism spectrum, Tourette’s, OCD, ADHD, and all kinds of “invisible” causes of behavior that might look like simple tantrums. Then, you can be one of those people showing kindness. And it matters. So much. Thanks for taking the time to read!

Superhero Success Foundation, Inc.

I’m thrilled to announce that our Georgia nonprofit, Superhero Success Foundation has been established. Through this IRS approved charity, we can create exciting children’s books featuring superhero characters that just happen to have special needs. Through the organization, books can be donated to children’s hospitals, camps for special needs kids, schools, and more.

Already, we’ve been asked to provide books for the campers attending Camp Trach Me Away this June. This will give the kids at camp a chance to see a character in a book who also has a tracheostomy tube in his neck–but also happens to be a superhero!

Our board of directors is looking to our next steps, such as creating a website, a logo, and drafting a mission statement that matches our articles of incorporation and by-laws. Overall, we hope to break barriers in children’s book publishing through creating amazing characters, who just happen to have special needs. Our first book, Jeremiah Justice Saves the Day has exceeded our expectations, thanks to the amazing talent of illustrator Rashad Doucet. We are so excited to share this book with the world and start making a difference in kids’ lives!

StoryStorm 2019

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Thanks to the amazing Tara Lazar and her guest bloggers, I’m happy to say I completed StoryStorm 2019 with 30 ideas for stories. If you have any interest in children’s publishing, I highly encourage you to subscribe to Tara’s blog here. You won’t be sorry!

Now, to get busy turning these ideas into actual full blown, developed stories…

But, you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Wish me luck!

Why You Should Tell Your Parents You Love Them Every Day

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Dad at one of my first book signings. 

In July, I lost my dad. He was always one of my biggest cheerleaders, even when I didn’t give him much to cheer about–especially during my high school years. Sometimes, it was embarrassing how much he’d brag about me to anyone who would listen. But I’d give almost anything now to hear him brag about me. What I’d give just to hear his voice one more time. He was especially proud that I was writing books. I still cry every time I think that he won’t be around to see Jeremiah Justice Saves the Day released. He helped raise funds on Kickstarter to make it happen.

My dad was 82 when he died, so on some level I knew he wasn’t going to be around forever. But when his death came, it was sudden and unexpected. It left so much unsaid–at least from my perspective. I had so much I should have thanked him for. I started wishing right away that I’d called him every single day from the day I left for college, just to tell him I loved him.

This isn’t new advice. Just like when you’re a new parent, and you hear from countless people, “Cherish every moment. They grow up so fast.” We hear from our friends who’ve lost a parent, “Don’t take them for granted. They won’t be here forever.” But advice like this is easy to throw off as a clichés. We think, “Yeah, yeah. I know.” But let’s face it. We really don’t know. We don’t know how fast our kids grow up until they’re gone. And we don’t know how fast we can lose our parents, who’ve been there for us our entire lives until that moment. And, we’re busy. Raising kids is all consuming and leaves us exhausted half the time. Being a caregiver for elderly parents is physically and emotionally challenging many times. Believe me, I get it. But, it still doesn’t make the clichés untrue.

So, here’s my two cents for today. Don’t think, “Yeah, yeah. I know.” Pick up the phone and call your mom or dad. Or both. Tell them you love them and you appreciate the sacrifices they’ve made for you. You’ll be glad you did.

Halloweensie Contest Entry

Happy Fall Everyone! I came across this fun writing contest on author Susannah Hill’s website. See rules here. Basically, it asks for you to write a short Halloween story in 100 words or less. It took me exactly 100! You also have to include any variations of the words cauldron, shiver and howl in your story. My entry Surfside Halloween is posted here. Happy reading, and if you’re so inclined…writing! 🙂

Surfside Halloween

On my first Florida Halloween, my mood was foul. When I heard the night’s plans, I let out a howl.

This night was for shivering, costumes and hayrides—not shorts or flip-flops, and definitely not high tides.

Halloween wasn’t about surf and sand—but trick-or-treating, with candy in hand.

This felt more like a trick than a treat; a cauldron of disappointment, despair and defeat.

When the full yellow moon revealed glowing eyes, I jumped back in fright, and yelped in surprise.

A tiny black kitten rocketed ’round the bend. I’d lost old traditions, but gained a new friend.

 

Beach pumpkins
Photo from website pleasureinsimplethings.com via Pinterest

Jeremiah Justice Update

With the help of Kickstarter and some amazing collaborators, I was able to raise the funds I needed to bring Jeremiah Justice Saves the Day into the world. Local Savannah artist Rashad Doucet agreed to illustrate the book, and his work is amazing! Every page has movement and action. I think kids are truly going to love this book.

I wanted to take the chance to share some of Rashad’s illustrations. Enjoy! More news will be coming soon regarding the date the book will be available to purchase. Thanks to everyone who has helped make this dream come true. I hope we can break some barriers and show that special needs kids can most definitely be superheroes.

 

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day

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Copyright Walden Pond Publishing

I picked up this book at our school’s book fair, and wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it during the first chapter. However, I’m glad I stuck with this gem of a book. It made me laugh, and it made me cry. As a former fourth grade teacher, I cherish the emotional connections I made with my students. Many of them needed nothing more than a teacher. But some of my students needed much more. They needed someone willing to go the extra mile–to listen to their fears, show interest in their activities, and comfort them when they were hurting. We don’t realize exactly what Ms. Bixby means to the three boys in this novel until the story unfolds. But they each have a reason, and when the readers learn these reasons, we get to the huge heart at the center of this story.

The boys decide to give their teacher (on leave due to her cancer treatments) a perfect day. The problem is, she’s in the hospital–nobody’s idea of a perfect day! They are also kids without transportation, a whole lot of cash, and a limited time frame to pull off the operation, as they are supposed to be in school. It reads like a quest, and reminded me of the Stephen King short story which became the movie, Stand by Me. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s heartwarming, engaging, and hilarious. This would be a great book for parents to read with their elementary kids, or for independent readers. I might have read it to my class were I still teaching fourth grade, but I’d have never made it through the book without crying!

Jeremiah Justice Saves the Day

Jeremiah Justice with text
This isn’t final art for the book. Thanks to Vecteezy.com for their superhero kid collection, and Rachel Miles for transforming a generic kid into Jeremiah Justice for the fundraising campaign!

Two years ago, I began writing a picture book about a special needs superhero named Jeremiah. He’s a regular kid with a regular family–until he discovers his superpower.

This isn’t an “issue book” to teach kids to be compassionate. It’s a fun, exciting and humorous story about an amazing kid who taps into a hidden strength. What the world might see as a weakness (the trach tube in his neck) becomes the source of his superpower. He names his power The Super Tornado Blaster and practices using it until he learns to control it. There are a few mishaps, of course. But eventually he is able to stop a notorious super villain’s crime spree in his town.

When I finished the manuscript over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about it. Since then, I’ve shared my story with writers, editors and illustrators at conferences. The response has always been positive. Enthusiastic even. But then it comes back to the world of publishing. It’s a business, you see. And books only sell enough copies to be profitable if they appeal to the widest possible audience. This kind of book is considered a “niche” book. Considering the amount of interest it’s already received, I’m hoping it’s much more than that. I dream of this book being read to school kids, by parents and grandparents, and even some kids who want to read it over and over to themselves. I envision the book being given to kids attending special needs camps in the summer, to families with a new trach patient, and to kids who are fans of superhero stories in general.

April 1st, my Kickstarter Campaign launches. It will run for 30 days, and my project goal is set high enough to cover the costs of publishing the book with the help of a professional illustrator. If you’d like to see a book in the world featuring a medically fragile child brave enough to take on a super villain, please support the campaign. It will take the help of everyone I know to share the word about this project. Thanks in advance!

Update: Check out this great early concept character of Jeremiah Justice by talented artist and SCAD professor Rashad Doucet! RashadDucetCharacter

Book Clubs

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A great conversation with a community book club about my second novel, Burning Prospects.

One of my favorite things about writing books is the chance to meet readers and discuss the plot and characters from my novels with them. Considering I don’t have an agent, publicist, and basically do nothing to promote my novels (shame on me, but I’m terrible at it!), I’ve been fortunate to receive invitations from quite a few book clubs. I’ve spoken to groups at several different churches, neighborhoods and one community group. It’s especially rewarding to be invited back to discuss a new book, when you’ve been a guest of the group previously with an earlier novel.

A couple of years ago, I spoke at a group that was open to the public. A local reporter called me to get a phone interview about my book prior to the event. When I arrived, I noticed an elderly man sitting alone. Everyone else was chatting with each other as they arrived, but this gentleman did not interact with anyone else in the group. The Villages Book Club blurb

Shortly after I began my talk, it became clear why he’d come. He hadn’t read Go Forward with Courage, but he came to “set the record straight” about what happened to the Japanese American citizens who were interned in camps during the war. In his opinion, they got better than they deserved because our government fed and sheltered them and kept them safe. If the tables had been turned, he insisted, the Japanese government would have killed any Americans living on their soil.

It was interesting to see the transformation that occurred in him during the meeting. After allowing him to express his opinion, I politely explained that my book was based on extensive research and first hand accounts. I provided him with the sources to find the information, and others in the room that had read the book informed him that my book paints a very balanced view of what happened, by framing it in the historical context of the times. If you are interested in learning more about Japanese Internment during WW2, Densho.org and The National World War II Museum are both great resources. Just search the archives for interviews from people who lived through the events.

The man began to ask questions, nod when certain points were brought up, and by the end of the meeting he thanked me for allowing him to speak. Nothing prepares a person for this type of encounter. I think that’s why it can be intimidating to accept an invitation to speak at a group where there will be back and forth dialogue, and Q & A. But I love hearing from my readers, and even the occasional “non-reader” who has an opinion about the subject matter.

If you’re a member of a book club, have you ever hosted an author visit? I’d love to hear about your experiences.