Today I'm delighted to feature my dear friend, Donna L. Martin. Donna and I have been online friends for years, and I've been following her progress as a writer with joy and admiration. Thank you, Donna, for agreeing to this interview. First of all, I ...
delighted to feature my dear friend, Donna L. Martin. Donna and I have been
online friends for years, and I’ve been following her progress as a writer with
joy and admiration.
Thank you, Donna, for agreeing to this interview. First of all, I want to congratulate you on your newest venture, HISTORY’S MYSTERIES. I’ve been intrigued ever since the first glimpse of the cover for the first book in the series, and I’m delighted with Amelia Earmouse!
Could you tell us a bit about the series, the concept behind it, and
your plans for it?
MYSTERIES is a historical fiction chapter book series for 8-12 year olds. I
wanted to create a series somewhat similar to the MAGIC TREEHOUSE series, but
with my own original twist. I blend “writing entries…i.e. journal, letters, etc”…
with live action, along with fictional main characters interacting with
historical figures, with a touch of mystery to keep my readers excited to turn
the page. I released the first two books last Fall, have the next two books
scheduled for this year and have the basic themes of books five through nine
figured out. The number of titles for this series are endless because there
will always be little known historical events to discover!
This is very different from your previous book, LUNADAR, a YA fantasy.
What was the impetus to go in such a different direction? Where did the idea
Donna: I was plotting out the next book in my LUNADAR trilogy when my sister happened to send me an article about a little-known train wreck which caused twenty tons of chocolate to fall on a small village in upstate New York years ago. She knew I loved history and when I read the article, bells went off in my head that this story HAD to be told and I was the person to tell it! I will get back to LUNADAR eventually, but the HISTORY’S MYSTERIES series is so fascinating to me, I’m going to run with this series for a while.
I’m sure you know how I delight in characters like Amelia. Could you
tell us more about Amelia Earmouse, and her role in the series?
Donna: I can thank my tremendously talented illustrator, Estella Hickman (www.estellahickman.com) for the idea of a mouse as the series mascot. Her original sketch was an adult professor-like male mouse. While it was very cute, I suggested a much younger, girl mouse with pigtails to help young readers to identify more with her. One of my critique partners, Rinda Beach (www.rindabeach.com) , took one look at the new sketch and came up with the name, Amelia Earmouse. Some people think Amelia is either a character in each title, or even a narrator, but she’s actually neither. Amelia is a sassy, time-traveling adventuress who loves uncovering little known historical events and sharing those stories with the world. Mysteries seem to follow her, and she even shares some of her sketching skills with the illustrations found in each book. You can even find her on Story Catcher Publishing’s website (www.storycatcherpublishing.com) under the Amelia’s Kids Korner, where she shares free teacher/parent resources for the classroom or homeschool curriculum for each title in the series.
Now let’s burrow into the first book of HISTORY’S MYSTERIES – SHIP OF
DREAMS. Without giving away too much, what mystery is Amelia investigating?
Donna: I spent months researching everything I could get my hands on concerning the Titanic. NOT about the ill-fated maiden voyage itself, but rather what was going on in Southampton while the people there eagerly awaited the ship’s arrival. While going through tons of research, I uncovered an onboard event which caused many questions. No one could exactly figure out the “mystery” at first, but it certainly set the tone of how some people reacted to the Titanic and their idea of her future.
Could you share an excerpt, possibly an illustration, that will pique
our interest even further?
“Wednesday, April 3, 1912
You will never guess what happened while I was sleeping. The Titanic’s
here in Southampton! Papa says it docked sometime after midnight and she’s
supposed to sail for America next week. He will be so busy loading everything
on board these next few days. I can almost feel the excitement all the way over
here! Papa said he’s never seen a grander ship in all his life, and he’s been a
White Star tally man for quite a few years now. He brought home a leaflet about sailing on board the Titanic and I
got to look at it after dinner last night. Oh, my goodness, the Titanic has a
huge dome ceiling at the top of the ship and a statue of a baby angel at the
bottom of a grand staircase. They even have a swimming pool and library in the middle
of that thing. Who would have ever thought about being able to float IN water
ON a ship while you float ON water IN a ship? First and second class will be able to use what they call an electric
lift to carry them from floor to floor, and even third class will have real electric
lights in their rooms. Oh, what a wonder that would be to have!” (Journal entry
made by main character, Margaret)
Beth: The cover illustration, and Amelia herself, are wonderful. Who is your illustrator?
Donna: I met my fabulous illustrator, Estella Hickman, through a Facebook call out for an illustrator to help me with my book cover for the series. I knew what I wanted the key elements to be but was afraid I wouldn’t find someone who would understand what I wanted to convey with this series. Estella answered my call out and we chatted over the phone for more than an hour. What I didn’t realize at first was the fact I was talking to someone whose work I had been following and admired for years. Estella is well-known for her gorgeous food artwork for Goose Berry Patch cookbooks. She’s also an established children’s book illustrator and I feel very blessed that she chose to work with me on this series!
Where can we find your book?
distributor is Ingramspark which means you can find HISTORY’S MYSTERIES: Ship
of Dreams all throughout the world wherever ebooks, soft covers, and hard backs
are sold, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, and other online
retailers. You can also find my book at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge,
Tennessee and Branson, Missouri. Story Catcher Publishing also has the books in
stock for people wanting signed copies.
Beth: I’ve been exploring your website. There are
some fantastic freebies for kids in Amelia’s Kids Korner. Could you tell us a
bit about Story Catcher Publishing?
Donna: When I first became a published author back in 2013, it was through traditional publishing channels. I had heard of “self-publishing”, but back then it really didn’t have a good reputation within the writing industry due to some low-quality writing and undesirable covers/illustrations being produced. Self-publishing has come a long way since then and in 2018 I chose to explore becoming what is now commonly called a “hybrid author”…one who is both traditionally published as well as releasing their own published books. I am currently releasing some of my books through my own publishing house, Story Catcher Publishing (www.storycatcherpublishing.com). My ultimate dream for my company is to hopefully within the next five years to be able to provide a legitimate small press option for indie authors to be able to release their books for a fraction of what it would cost on their own, while providing editing, publishing, distribution, and marketing support, with a chance for those authors to retain about 80% of their royalties after expenses. That’s my dream anyway!
Beth: Something else that’s on your website, that I
know is dear to your heart, is your STAR CATCHER YOUNG WRITERS CONTEST. Please
tell us more about the contest, your plans for it, and how kids can enter.
Where can they find more information?
Donna: Contest rules can be found on the Story Catcher Publishing website at www.StoryCatcherPublishing.com The contest runs each Fall and is open to young writers ages 10 to 18 years old. They can submit short stories from 750-1000 words covering categories including horror, humor, fantasy, science fiction, and miscellaneous. Entries will be read by published authors and winners in each category will be published in anthologies. I believe young writers have something to contribute to the KidLit world, but don’t always have the ability to get their stories published through legit venues. The only cost to them will be a $5 entry fee and if they want copies of the anthologies, Story Catcher Publishing will provide them copies at wholesale cost so they can retain 100% of their royalties with each book of their own they sell. I’ll also help them with marketing and setting up a blog/website for free. That’s the dream anyway. It’s my way of giving back to the writing community.
You have a very generous heart – thank you for all you do in the KidLit
community, and for young readers. Is there anything you’d like to add about
your plans and your dreams for Story Catcher Publishing, your writing, and your
Donna: Thank you for your kind words, Beth! I accept book donations year-round to process and distribute to local elementary school libraries as well as fulfilling requests for book donations all around the country. Over the past 16 years, I’ve been blessed to be able to donate over $225,000 worth of books so far! I want to continue supporting new and established authors by sharing their books through my BOOK NOOK REVIEWS and will continue to share writing advice through my WRITERLY WISDOM series. I will be adding a newsletter this year as well as some contests, so if any of your readers are interested in learning more about what I have planned for 2020, they can go to my website and sign up for my quarterly emails.
Just as a teaser, what’s next for Amelia?
Donna: Amelia and I are currently finishing the research for book three in the HISTORY’S MYSTERIES series. “Hunting Gris-Gris” will take place during World War II in a fictional town very similar to my hometown in the bayous of southern Louisiana. The mystery aspect will come from a childhood legend I was raised on and will involve a swamp creature very much alive during my childhood. I’m hoping to release book three in the spring of 2020.
Beth: Thanks again for stopping by my
blog, Donna. I wish you tons of success with your endeavors, and I’ll be
watching for more of Amelia Earmouse’s adventures!
Donna: Thank YOU, Beth, for this wonderful opportunity to share a little bit of my writerly world with your readers!
Donna’s bio and photo:
Best-selling, award-winning author, Donna L Martin, has been
writing since she was eight years old. She is a 4th Degree Black Belt in
TaeKwonDo by day and a ‘ninja’ writer of flash fiction, children’s picture
books, chapter books, young adult novels and inspirational essays by night.
Donna is a BOOK NOOK REVIEWS host providing the latest book reviews on all
genres of children’s books, and the host of WRITERLY WISDOM, a resource series
for writers. Donna is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers &
Illustrators and Children’s Book Insider. She is a lover of dark chocolate,
going to the beach and adding to her growing book collection.
I’m very happy to welcome Lydia Lukidis to my blog today! Thanks for participating in this interview, Lydia.
For those of you who don’t know Lydia, she has several books published – mainly as work-for-hire projects – and recently her first “all hers” picture book came out. We’re celebrating that book today! NO BEARS ALLOWED by Lydia, with illustrations by Tara J. Hannon, published by Blue Whale Press, is the story of a rabbit who is afraid of pretty much everything, but especially BEARS. Then, horror of horrors, a bear comes into his life. Is Bear really someone to be terrified of?
Now on to
BETH: Lydia, I know you’ve done several interviews already, and there are links to those below that I will urge my readers to check out, so I’ll try to ask new and fresh things. I’ll try, anyway! What was it about this rabbit and bear that made you take the leap of faith to strike out into new waters after doing so many work-for-hire projects?
it was the other way around. My first trade picture book came out in 2014, and
the second, in 2016. For these projects, I wrote narratives about a character
created by the publishing house. After those experiences, I was inspired to
write my own stories and wrote a slew of books. I learned about the industry
and set out to publish them. I spent a few years with the wrong agents (two in
total) and accumulated dozens of rejection letters for each book. At the time,
making a living off my books wasn’t viable, so I also gave writing workshops in
elementary schools and I turned to work-for-hire as a way to supplement my
income. I have come to love both these aspects of my job and still do them
today, in addition to working on my own books.
BETH: Ah. Thank you for the clarification. Can you give us a quick recap of NO BEARS ALLOWED (without revealing too much!) and tell us what your favorite part is, and why?
LYDIA: NO BEARS ALLOWED, like a lot of my work, is character driven. It’s all about Rabbit, who’s afraid of everything, including his own shadow. His biggest fear is, lo and behold, bears. And wouldn’t you know it, one day on his way to fetch carrots for his daily stew, he comes face to face with a …bear! The themes of confronting ones fears and not judging others permeate the story.
BETH: This definitely sounds like my kind of book! What sort of adjustments, if any, have you had to make to your thought processes and your book-launch processes for this book?
LYDIA: Every book and subsequent launch is a different entity, so I treat them all individually. The audience for this book is 3-6 years old, ideally, so I’ll tailor my book launch to suit them, and offer some carrot cupcakes, a free puppet making workshop and other fun elements.
BETH: Yum. Carrot cupcakes! I know you’re Canadian, as am I (waves across the miles). Has that made a difference in your process and progress as a writer?
LYDIA: Not really, though you would think it would. I don’t think most agents or publishers mind where you’re from, so long as they love your work.
BETH: That’s good news! The subject of fears and overcoming them, which is paramount in your book, is a subject that is dear to my heart. What do you hope kids will take away from your book in terms of their fears?
LYDIA: The takeaway is to learn to step out of your comfort zone. If you never try, you’ll never know who you really are or what you’re capable of. I hope this book encourages, even in a small way, children to look at their fears critically and learn to somehow overcome them. At the end of my book, Rabbit realizes that bears aren’t so bad, after all. Children may also feel like way about their own fears that have been built up in their minds.
BETH: Great message. That’s one that adults could use these days, too! This segues into the other takeaways you hope for your book, and the needs you see in our society that we as writers can help to address. I know having empathy for others is important to you. Can you talk about that? How do you weave that into your stories without being didactic or message-driven?
LYDIA: I wanted the book to cultivate empathy, since this is such a critical skill to have, especially today. It’s really about learning to see things from another person’s point of view. As Rabbit lets down his walls and allows Bear into his world, they slowly develop an unlikely friendship. Rabbit learns to become empathetic towards what he previously saw as a scary enemy. The end result is him learning to not judge others and make assumptions about them. These are lessons we could all benefit from.
not being didactic, this was a work in progress! My earlier works have been
ridiculously didactic and message-fueled, and I learned through those mistakes.
I came to realize that children are intelligent, and don’t need messages banged
over their heads, so to speak. They much prefer an enchanting narrative, and
you can weave your themes throughout that narrative.
BETH: Great point, that kids don’t need messages banged over their heads. It’s important for those of us who are writers to remember that. Books are important tools, but not in that way. That leads me to wonder what are some of the key roles of books for kids in our society, in your view? How do you hope NO BEARS ALLOWED fulfils those roles? How would you encourage other writers to work with those roles in their own books?
LYDIA: I think books are critical for many reasons. Here are a just few of them:
ignite one’s imagination
us understand ourselves, as well as each other
us find our place in this world
I hope NO BEARS ALLOWED fulfills these roles, it was certainly my intention. I think the best advice is to focus on your audience, and really understand them. What would they like to hear? And what do they need to hear about? If you keep everything child-centric, it will flow organically.
BETH: That is a perfect mini-course in what is important in writing for kids, right there. Thank you. Is there anything you’d like to add?
LYDIA: Being a writer is a wonderful journey, but it’s filled with ups and downs. I’m grateful to have found a way to build a career on telling stories and reaching children. I’m especially grateful to Steve Kemp and Alayne Christian from Blue Whale Press for seeing the magic in NO BEARS ALLOWED, and to Tara J. Hannon for agreeing to illustrate it.
BETH: And we’re grateful to Steve, Alayne, Tara, and YOU for making this book come into being. Thank you again, Lydia, for being with us today, and for your thoughtful, insightful answers.
Lydia Lukidis is a children’s author with a multi-disciplinary background that spans the fields of literature, science and theater. So far, she has over 40 books and eBooks published, as well as a dozen educational books. Her latest STEM books include The Broken Bees’ Nest and The Space Rock Mystery.
My dear online friend, Ashley Franklin, recently launched her debut picture book, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, illustrated by Ebony Glenn, and it’s now available, delighting and empowering young readers everywhere. Here’s a link to the publisher’s website.
I’m grateful to have been watching the preparations for this launch, and to have been retweeting my fingers off as she did interview after interview during the launch period.
Beth: Thanks, Ashley, for giving me the opportunity to do this after-launch interview. Your delightful book character, Tameika, is now out in the world. Congratulations! What was the whole launch process like for you?
Ashley: Thanks, Beth! I was extremely nervous about the launch, so I planned it strategically to build up my comfort level. My absolute first event was at a preschool where my sister is one of the teachers.
I’ve also had two Barnes & Noble events
that were quite special to me. The first was in Maryland, where I grew up. It
was an awesome feeling being with family and friends. It was also special to me
because my grandma (Mom-Mom, as I call her) was able to attend. I dedicated the
book to her, so that definitely pulled on the heart strings.
The second Barnes & Noble event was
special because I got a chance to do a joint reading with Wendy Greenley,
author of Lola Shapes the Sky. We are in the same debut group and met online.
It’s great when you can connect with your Internet friends in person.
I have a couple of events left still, and I
think I’m most glad that I’ve been able to meet readers face-to-face. I like
hearing their takeaways and being able to give them little things like stickers
Oh, and I can’t forget about the amazing
feedback we’ve been getting via social media! I’ve had a blast doing interviews
and podcasts. It’s been so touching seeing parents post pictures of their
children with the book. It’s a phenomenal feeling when you finally get to see
your book in the hands of the kids you’re writing for.
Beth: I wanted to underline the last two lines of the last paragraph there. I can imagine it’s a phenomenal feeling indeed. And those events sound fabulous! I’d love to be able to be at one. Since that’s not possible, my readers and I will imagine you’re showing us your book in person. Could we get a glimpse of one of your favorite spreads in NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE?
Ashley: Sure! This is my favorite spread because it highlights Tameika’s closeness with her parents—and not just her mom, but her dad as well. I really love how the supportive family comes across. It’s just a really tender moment when Tameika is getting the reassurance that she needs, and I think that Ebony did a wonderful job of capturing it.
Beth: Lovely. Perfect melding of text and illustration. Thank you. After hearing what fun you’ve been having in your launch events, what are your thoughts now as the launch-dust settles and you get into your new normal as a published author?
Ashley: I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m currently out on submission, but I also find myself letting the feedback from Not Quite Snow White resonate while I continue to write new stories. The writing journey is continuous, so my new normal isn’t much different from my old normal. I’m going to keep trying to write the best stories that I can.
Beth: Good point. Just keep writing. I spent some time on your website, and particularly loved what you said about why you write: “I write because I want to help more kids see the magic within themselves.” Could you say more about that, where that comes from, and where you hope to go with it?
Ashley: Kids are just filled with hope, potential, and imagination. To me, that’s a magical foundation. It’s something that we adults have been blessed with the task of nurturing—whether that be as parents, educators, family, etc.
I hope to write stories that truly resonate
with children that can help them to see that they can shine brilliantly
regardless of their situation. Particularly for children who may not come from
ideal situations, they especially need to trust and believe in themselves. They
need to know that there’s something special inside of them, something magical
if you will, that gives them the ability to succeed.
Beth: Oh, how I love that. That’s so important. Now, you’re probably asked this next question every time you turn around, but — I know you have two active kids. How do you find time to write while raising them to be the delightful kids I know they are? What have their thoughts been in this whirlwind book-launch time?
Ashley: My kids are having the time of their lives with their grandmother while I’m doing these launch activities. They are the first to get pictures after an event, and we FaceTime so we can talk all about it. They’re my beta readers, so they’ve been supportive for the longest.
Their constant support is what gives me the
time to write. We will sit around the kitchen table, and my 5yo colors or
practices his letters while my 7yo draws and I write. Other times it’s about
making the most of each moment—writing while making dinner, writing while my
7yo is at taekwondo, or writing after they’ve both gone to bed.
Beth: I love the mental image those words give, of all of you engaged in creative activities at once. Circling back to thoughts about the launch, do you have any advice for other writers who are looking forward to and planning for their debut releases?
Ashley: Do what makes you comfortable, and surround yourself with loved ones. You only get one first book, so enjoy it.
Also, if you’re going to do swag, take
advantage of sales! Picture books can take two years to come out. That leaves
you with plenty of time to plan for and purchase swag.
Beth: Excellent advice. “You only get one first book, so enjoy it.” YES! Besides delighting that Tameika is now out in the world, and helping her make her way in that world, what is next for you, in terms of your writing?
Ashley: I’m still working on picture books, but I’m also dabbling with middle grade. I like challenging myself with writing different things, and I have my sights set on reaching a slightly older audience in addition to the picture book audience.
Beth: Super! You’ve got a lot to give, and I’m very happy to hear you’re working toward reaching out to older kids as well. Before we leave your launch experience, can you give us some links to previous interviews? I know there were some fabulous ones.
The Children’s Book Podcast w/ Matthew Winner: linked here.
Justin Colón Books:
Beth: Thanks so much, Ashley, for being on my blog today, and for being such a lovely part of my community of writing friends. I wish you and Tameika all the best!
Ashley: Thanks for having me, Beth!
Ashley Franklin is an African-American Muslim
writer, mother, and adjunct college professor.
Her debut picture book, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE
(published 7/9/19), is a tender story of an African-American girl who must
dispel doubts about her ability to play a traditionally non-minority
princess—Princess Snow White.
Ashley currently resides in Arkansas with her
husband and two sons. Their favorite pastime is “park-hopping” and exploring
the many nature trails in their area.
Yes, it’s time once again for one of Susanna Hill’s Pretty Much World Famous and Totally Amazing writing contests — THE VALENTINY CONTEST! The rules are simple. Write a Valentine story for kids, no more than 214 words (2/14. Duh.) in which someone feels guilty. And so, without further ado (or adon’t) I present my entry.
AND be single, double, TRIPLE sure to pop by Susanna’s blog and read all the other wonderful entries! Here’s the link (there are more being posted all the time, so you’ll want to go back again and again!)
Single… Double… TRIPLE GUILTY!
Valentine’s Day tomorrow! Tony could hardly wait. Ms. Flinker was throwing an old-fashioned Valentine’s party with balloons and cupcakes, and a Valentine’s Box for each of them, so all the kids in the class could put in cards.
Tony dumped out his box of SuperZoomer Valentines. Uh-oh. 20 cards per box. 21 kids in his class.
He giggled. He wouldn’t give nasty Lisa one. She said he was too little for Kindergarten. She called him Tiny, even when he yelled MY NAME IS TONY!
On Valentine’s Day, a SuperZoomer Valentine superzoomed into nearly all the Valentine Boxes lined up along the front table. Nobody noticed that Tony didn’t put one in Lisa’s box. His stomach did, though. GUILTY, it told him.
They ate their cupcakes. They drank red juice. Then it was time for the Valentines. The first one out of his box was from – LISA! Oh no. His stomach said DOUBLE GUILTY. The Valentine said, “Tony – I’m sorry. Can we be friends?”
TRIPLE GUILTY said his stomach. He ran to the back of the room. Red construction paper. Markers. SuperZoomer fast, he made a Valentine.
“Lisa, my card for you wouldn’t fit in the box.”
She looked. “To my new friend. Happy VALENTINY Day!”
I’ve just started reading this, and had to come to my blog to urge you to find it and read it too.
From the blurb on the back cover, “Meet 10 remarkable women you’ve probably never heard of. They battled bears and cougars, traversed mountains and extreme terrain, endured hardship during wartime and challenged ideas of what was appropriate for women in their time.”
From the acknowledgements, I can tell that Lisa researched this book thoroughly and vigorously. From what I’ve read thus far, I can also tell that she knows how to take rigorous research and make the person come to life on the page.