Monday, September 30, 2013

Blog Tour Interview

To those of you who are stopping here on today's blog tour, welcome! I'm thrilled you are sharing time with me.

As you can see, this is a "school" themed blog...a "life in the forties, fifties, and sixties" themed blog based on my first book, Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School, although I can't help but insert a post or two about other topics that blip across my radar.

Like now, as I answer questions about my writing journey.

My newest book was released by Albert Whitman and Company a few weeks ago, a children's picture book, When Christmas Feels Like Home. It's Eduardo's story, completely fiction but based on what I've seen and experienced moving into new cultures, answering the ageless question, "When will this strange place feel like my home?" Big concept, I know, but you're never too young to need reassurance.

My love for children's literature goes back to my early years waiting for the bookmobile every other Thursday at the post office. I'm sure I would have checked out the entire supply had there not been a limit. Then at Appalachian State University here in North Carolina, a class in children's literature sparked my dream to publish. I wrote my first manuscript, used it as my final project for the class, put it a drawer and went on with my teaching career. I read back through it recently and realized one thing, in the drawer it will remain. I chalk that one up to practice, practice, practice.

I've grown professionally since that first attempt, thanks in large part to the information I've gleaned through attending conferences and online workshops sponsored by SCBWI, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Through that I have a wonderfully brutal critique group that won't let me get by with mediocre writing. I've met in person and interacted online with many authors in the writing community here in the Carolinas and beyond the borders as well. I've revised so many manuscripts that when some of those same online buddies ask about one, I've had to think which version they are referring to before I can respond. The drawer of castaway manuscripts is stuffed to the brim, believe me.

I'm beginning a new project this week, a short nonfiction about a crusty moonshiner filled with unbelievable stories, including redemption. Needless to say, it's not children's literature. Neither is my recent release about my mother's cousin in the Salvation Army, Called to the Mountains: The Story of Jean L. Frese.

I write what interests me.

It's that simple.
Next Monday, the blog tour continues. Drop by and visit these authors on October 7 (or now!):

Sarah Maury Swan at
Tricia Martineau Wagner at
Linda Phillips at:

And please drop by and visit with me again.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, September 14, 2013

First Class

I've found a gem, a book that I can't wait to read.

Hey, I'm an author. I find gems and jewels and treasures in books. I was going to order it on Kindle, but no, I want to hold it in my hands, to devour it slowly as I flip from one section to the other. So I ordered it and must wait until next week to read beyond the few "look inside" online selections.

It's about a school and according to the author, "My protagonist is a building." Just like Lessons Learned.

It has a black and white, sepia maybe, cover that fits the appropriate era, not the flashy "read me now" cover that is so popular today. Just like Lessons Learned.

It is full of interviews with living characters that tell story after story about real life at school. Just like Lessons Learned.

This book should live up to its name, First Class, if I go by the reviews I've read and the Book TV show I just watched. It has a subtitle that elaborates on the claim: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School. Little wonder why I'm fascinated. I'd like to say it's akin to mine. It's a collective memoir, a collage as the forward states. It follows the history of a school from its beginnings in the 1870's to the present day state-of-the-art facility. And, like Lessons Learned, it follows the history of the community that runs parallel to the history of the school and parallel to the history of the United States.

Its author, Alison Stewart, spent countless hours interviewing former students, teachers, children of students, anyone who had the slightest connection to the school or its graduates. Sounds familiar. Listening to her today as she explained her project, I felt a kinship that only a fellow researcher/interviewer/author could know. The hours in front of a microfische. The long distant telephone calls to people with sharp memories or aged recollections. The tears at stories that tug at the heart. The white rabbit diversions. The, as she explained, "Oh honey, I don't have anything to tell you" comments that were followed by the most unbelievably fantastic stories.

Been there, done that.

Her book followed black high school students in urban Washington, DC. Mine followed white elementary school students in very rural, mountainous western North Carolina. How could they compare? Oh, my, in so many ways I don't know where to begin.

Teacher expectation, aspirations, inspirations. Disproving that children from "another" kind of background can't learn. Parental involvement. "If we messed up, the story got home before we did" kind of community, as one gentleman today stated. Dedication to learning despite what the world has against you. Spirit. Soul.

One question that Ms. Stewart said she asked every former student was one I never considered: "When was a time when you knew Dunbar made a difference in your life?"

Drats. I should have asked that. But wait. Looking back, the majority of those I interviewed answered that in their own ways. After all, these were elementary children, not high school. But they knew. This school made a difference in their lives.

Inner city. Rural mountain. The real lessons learned from school are never, never forgotten.

I'm so looking forward to next week's mail.

Catch of the day,


Monday, September 9, 2013

Senator Sam Ervin and the Schools

This past Saturday I had a chance to meet and greet several people on the old courthouse square, downtown Morganton. I sat behind (key word, behind, since that was a six hour rear view) the life size statue of Burke County's favorite son, Senator Sam Ervin of the Watergate hearings fame. I watched as the crowds milled around him, rubbed his hand, patted him on the back as if they were reconnecting with an old friend.
Appreciating Senator Sam with my friend Martha

I understand their emotions. I ran across his name and his picture countless times during my research process, so often in fact, even though I never met him in person, I could have recognized this man's image without the inscriptions surrounding it. To the world, he was the "country lawyer" that maintained a semblance of order during a trying time in our country's history. To the Burke County people, he was the "city lawyer" they called upon when they needed legal assistance. Now there's a lesson to be learned in perception.

Sam ErvinIn January of 1947, the teachers in the area, including those at Pilot Mountain School, asked this former congressman and yet to be senator to represent their interests in what became known as the South Piedmont Proposal. These underpaid, underappreciated, underfunded classroom teachers needed an advocate, one familiar with state government, one who believed in fairness and education and working through the system. They found exactly what they were looking for, although the forty percent raise in the proposal didn't materialize. But this school bell could not be unrung, Sam Ervin's words could not be unsaid and the groundwork was laid for further talks.

Now in 2013 the teachers of the great state of North Carolina once again are needing an advocate, one who is familiar with state government, who believes in fairness and education. They've tried working through the system. That failing, they've resorted to a summer of moral Monday demonstrations, calling upon the state legislature to step up, wake up, and be aware of what the recent drastic funding cuts will mean to the children in public schools.

These current legislators need to spend a few hours watching the crowds appreciate their country lawyer. Lessons Learned.

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Signing Time

This past Monday I launched my When Christmas Feels Like Home off to make its way in the world. I did my part in getting it ready for that moment and I'm not just talking about the launch party. I'm talking work, work, work and plenty of team effort. My critique group, brutal though they be, believed in this simple story about a boy, Eduardo, moving to a new life. They were with me for those first versions years ago, as were several online "beta" readers.

Then Kelly Barrales-Saylor, the Albert Whitman & Company editor, did her part, wonderfully so, I might add. The illustrator, Carolina Farias, did her part, also wonderfully so, way beyond my imaginings.

Now it's out of our hands and into the hands of the children. That was my goal through all the submissions and revisions and rewrites...get it to the readers. I've met with the reality that first it will go through the gatekeepers, the parents and media specialists who are the first line of defense. I appreciate their very serious task, applaud them, and encourage them to give Eduardo's story a reading.

And then I celebrated. Unairconditioned, park picnic shelter, water bottles instead of champagne. But I partied.

The guests participated in centers filled with activities related to the story. They played futbol and they played football. They wrote words floating on puffy clouds to inspire me. They created bony fingered tree skeletons and pumpkins that smile. They colored the Christmas page, the climax where Eduardo finally gets to open the Christmas box with the Nativity. They sat in chairs and read the book and rubbed their hands over the pictures, gently, softly, with reverence, tracing the outline of the characters' faces.

We ate food that I matched to the story. My antique toy car carried Moravian cookies shaped like Christmas trees so that for this day, trees rode on cars. The children sampled the candy pumpkins. I don't think too many of them attempted the pumpkin dip for the "Eduardo ate Thanksgiving turkey with his friends" page, but the adults raved about the flavor...and the book.

I came home worn out, drained emotionally and physically, but oh, so satisfied. No doubts now.

This book will soar!

Catch of the day,

Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 2, 2013

Lessons Learned from Lessons Learned

Today, Labor Day 2013, is the day I selected to celebrate the launch of my newest book, a children’s picture book…a beautiful children’s picture book, I must say so myself, When Christmas Feels Like Home.  
The illustrator took the words I had painstakenly assembled about a homesick little boy, and through her artistic interpretation, added a whole new dimension to the story, taking it to heights I never imagined. What joy! Thank you, Carolina Farias, for giving the readers an Eduardo to remember and a puppy to love.
This book is so far on the literature spectrum from the narrative nonfiction, adult level Lessons Learned that you'd think there was no comparison. True, the process was different, but in both cases I was blessed with editors who focused on making the book at hand the best it could possibly be. Thank you Kelly Barrales-Saylor at Albert Whitman & Company. Your patience and persistence helped me turn this manuscript into a reality far beyond my original concept.

One lesson I've learned from Lessons Learned and meeting readers, goes to the reality of putting a book out in the public. The writer has no control once the book is chiseled in stone. This is no baby I've birthed on Labor Day 2013. The birthing came months ago when the final revision was approved. This creature launching today is a teenager on the day he first gets the keys to the family car. It's driving solo now, and where it lands, in the hands of a homesick boy just like Eduardo, or under the couch, forgotten, waiting for the day someone remembers it and looks for grandma to read one more time, no matter the circumstance, I'm no longer in control.

Sounds exciting for Eduardo!

Catch of the day,