Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sometimes the Stories Choose Us


     When you are a writer, you rotate between writing, editing, and revising.  But you are also, at all times, thinking about what your next story will be.

     Many times, we choose the story we are writing.  We may get a spark of an idea, and work to develop it into a full story.

     But sometimes, in those rare moments, a story finds us.

     Almost four years ago, on a visit to New York City, my sister and I got to experience the 9-11 Memorial.  During our visit to the gift shop, I discovered a book about the 9-11 Survivor Tree.  Until that moment, I had not realized they had a survivor tree.

     Their tree has a much different story than ours.  It was recovered from some of the rubble and replanted, nursed back to health and transplanted to the grounds when the memorial was finished.

     I decided to buy that book, and then find the book about our Survivor Tree.  I came home and began to look for one, and that was when I discovered there wasn't one.

     There needed to be.

     That idea sat on my heart for a couple of years.  The seed of the idea planted itself there, and wouldn't go away.  And  I knew that a story had found me.  A story that needed to be told.

     I wrote the story from a third-person narrative.  It was ok.  It might be picked up and looked at in the terms of a narrative account of the bombing on a children's level.  But it didn't strike a chord in my heart.

     Then I knew I needed the tree to tell the story.  So I wrote it from the tree's point of view.  And cried. 

     The publishing industry is highly competitive, and many great books are not published because they don't find their way to the right literary agent, or the right-fit publishing house.   I began to submit my manuscript to agents in New York City.  But they didn't understand how significant this tree is.

     Then, I found out about Roadrunner Publishing.  It is an award-winning Indie press here in Oklahoma.  The editor, Jeanne Devlin, was on the staff of Oklahoma Today when the bombing occurred, and was on the team that published the Oklahoma Today that was released soon after.  She knows the heart of this tree. 

     The wheels began rolling, and after a couple of illustrator changes, things were on track.  Then, a friend of mine and fellow writer and SCBWI member, Amy Stephens, contacted me about her interviewing me for the Oklahoma Outlook/Edmond Outlook magazine.  They were interested in the story about the book.  We did an interview, and some pictures at the Memorial.  I am so grateful to Amy for seeing the significance in this story.

     Abigail Ogle, anchor and reporter with KOCO-TV saw the article and contacted me to do an interview.  Abigail did an incredible job of catching the spirit of this tree, and the journey to tell its story.  And that's how this all began.

     I can't even begin to thank all of you enough for your support and heartfelt interest in this book.  More than anything, I am grateful that this story, this tree, this horrible tragedy, and the people whose lives were changed forever, will not be forgotten.

     I am humbled and honored, for I know I was chosen to write this book.  I know the story chose me.

     Many of you have asked me when and where you can buy it.  And more than one person has said, "I want it in my hands right now!"

     But, we want the story, the illustrations, and the book quality to do it justice.  To pay honor and respect to the tree, the victims, and the survivors.  So, it will take some more time.

     The publication date is currently set for October 10.  Hopefully that will stay firm, but sometimes things happen.  However, please know that when it is available for purchase, I will definitely let you all know!  I am sure that it will be in most Oklahoma City bookstores.  I am not sure about nationwide.  However, there's always online ordering.

     It is available to pre-purchase at Amazon.com.  But, if you would like to wait, I feel quite sure there will be at least one, if not several events and book signings.  It's not about me.  It's about this amazing story of heartbreak, survival and hope. 

     So, thank you to each and every one of you who have given me encouragement.  It validates to me the journey I've taken to bring this story to you, and to our children. 

     Gaye
    
    

    

    

Sunday, March 19, 2017

#AmWriting!

The thought that I wanted to write for children began seeping into the recesses of my mind about 10 years ago.  And I tried to make a successful go at it by flying by the seat of my pants for several years.

Then I heard about SCBWI.  The Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.  SCBWI is a national organization, with virtually all major children's authors and illustrators as members.

I slowly began to get involved in our Oklahoma Region of SCBWI...I mean, at first, I went like twice a year.

But then I caught the flame that this group of people have for writing.  And not only for being a successful writer for children, but supporting each other.  It truly is a tribe. 

I have learned more than I could ever have learned on my own by being a member of SCBWI.  And I learn continuously...through critique groups, speakers, critique days, and our annual conferences. 

If you have ever had that little thought in the back of your mind that says, "Maybe I should write children's books," or "Maybe I could illustrate children's books," you owe it to yourself to go for it.

There is no quick fix in this world of publishing, but you won't learn if you don't try.  And, to say that the publishing world is highly competitive and totally subjective is a fact.  But keep at it, and it will happen!


So, like I said, if you have ever had interest, the best thing you can do is jump in with both feet.

Here's the link to sign up - and the best thing is, it's never too late!!


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Yes, it HAS Been Forever!

I spend so much of my time writing and editing my various works in progress that I have totally neglected this blog.  It's time to catch up, and the end of Spring Break is a good time to do that.

My blog is titled Reading, Writing, and Roaming, and I'm going to hit all three of those areas.  However, I'll probably need to break them up into three posts.  I'll start with Roaming!

If you know me well, you know that I love to roam and travel.  And when circumstances prevent me from going far, I can always find somewhere close to home.  And thanks to my partner-in-crime, Denice, we have been doing this for six years! 

In fact, thanks to Facebook memories, I got a reminder that our first expedition was six years ago this last week.  We went to Medicine Park and Mount Scott.

To say we have seen a lot is an understatement.  But there are always things to see...and experience.

Denice and I have gone to Pawhuska several times, way before it was the cool place to go, and home of the Pioneer Woman's Mercantile.  We've wanted to go to the Merc since it opened, but we also knew that the crowds would be crazy for a while.

They really haven't died down, but we decided to go for it anyway.  And since our district was out for Spring Break a day earlier than most, we took the chance.

We left at 7:00 and got to Pawhuska at 9:30.  (After our obligatory Sonic stop before we left the City.)



The lines weren't bad!  We had already decided that if the line was too long, we'd just go in the shop.  But being the early bird helped.  We only stood in line for 20 minutes!  Thank goodness, because it was a might chilly out there.

If you love home-style food with Ree's own twist, you'll love this place.  Since we were there so early, we ate a yummy breakfast.

If you go, you must try the Spicy Cowgirl Coffee.  So yum.


Spicy Cowgirl!




After we ate, we shopped! 




Then hit up the bakery upstairs.  This is not to be missed, folks. 






















We headed out of town after that fun time to find our next place.

Denice had been here previously.  This is Bird Creek School.  Or used to be.  As I'm sure you can tell, it's in major disrepair. 






Yes.  Creepy is a great word for it.

It's said to be haunted, that if you write your name on the chalkboard, and come back, it will be gone but scratched into the board.  Hmmm.....not sure that would require a ghost.  But, the creepiness ensues.

However, we didn't get close.  There were visible signs of "someone" trying to keep people out of the yard of the school.  Like I said, Denice had been there before with her husband, Jody, and they had gone in.  When they came out, there was a creepy guy there, none too happy to see them.

Even from the fence, though, this place definitely sparked some story ideas for me.  And I know 4th graders love a good spooky story.

Pretty sure I wouldn't want to come back at dark.  Or would I?


We headed on from there and wanted to see something else, so we went to Pawnee.

If you're from Oklahoma, you probably have heard of Pawnee Bill.  The town was named for him.

Pawnee Bill was a rancher and also a Wild West Show performer.  
It's visiting places like this that make me think it would be fun to be able to travel back...just for a day...to see what like was like. 
This Wild West Show was quite the ticket, and folks came from miles and miles. 


It was a great day, once again!

Later in the week, I also had to visit my favorite tree. 


Stay tuned for more information about this tree and me...coming very soon!




 



Sunday, February 28, 2016

Going the Distance!

 

I became a member of SCBWI in 2010.  For my friends who have no idea what that acronym stands for, it's the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.  A great number of well-known children's authors are also members.

When you become a member, you are automatically a member of the local region.  Our Oklahoma Chapter is the best one out there!

When I first joined, I was recovering from an injury and was just dabbling in the idea.  I had written my Chameleon Girl books, not realizing they weren't really industry standard.  I began going sporadically to our local meetings, then called Schmooze.  And while I was always inspired, I didn't go regularly, nor did I do that much writing.  But,  it was always in the back of my mind, and my imagination was always "cooking" up stories.

Fast forward to 2013.  I attended my first Oklahoma SCBWI conference.  It was held in Tulsa.  I had no idea before that day what I didn't know!  But I walked away with such a picture of what children's book publishing is all about.

I have missed very few events since then, and have attended every conference and fall retreat since that time.  I can't even tell you what it has meant for my writing career.  Am I traditionally published yet?  No.  Is it a journey?  Yes!  Am I going to give up?  Absolutely NOT!

If you have any interest at all in writing for children, or if you just love children's books, you must attend our Spring Conference.  It is an experience you won't forget, and you will walk away with more knowledge than you thought possible!

Go to this link, look around our wonderful Oklahoma Region of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and sign up!
 http://oklahoma.scbwi.org 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Galveston, Oh Galveston!

     I had the  pleasure of spending a few days in Galveston this past week with my friend Jaquita.  We had such a wonderful time.  Many of you know that I lived in Houston right after college for a little over three years and had been to Galveston many times.  But, mainly to go to the beach and hit the Strand a time or two.  I don't think I was aware of the depth and history to this island town.
     Besides, I'll always be a Texas girl.

     While the beach is a huge part of Galveston, there is so much more to see.  And so much history.

     Galveston has been everything from the first capitol of the Republic of Texas, the largest city in Texas at one time, and the home of Fort Crockett which was especially manned during the fight for Texas' independence from Mexico.   It was also inhabited by pirates hundreds of years ago. During the mid 19th Century, Galveston was in its prime as a very important city in the history of the state.  The Port of Galveston was established in 1826 and became one of the nation's leading ports for trade.

     Then it was hit by a massive hurricane in 1900.  This was before hurricanes were named, so it has always been known as The Great Hurricane of 1900.  The city of Galveston was literally leveled and anywhere between 6,000 and 12,000 were killed.  It still remains  the largest natural disaster in the U.S.

     However, Galveston slowly rebounded.  And even though it has been hit by several other significant hurricanes, it always comes back.  Here are some of the wonderful things we saw.


       After we got checked into our hotel on Seawall Boulevard, we went to explore.  Or destination was the Pleasure Pier, which is in a picture below.  It was MUCH farther than we thought.  
     But isn't this gorgeous?  I mean, wow. 




I love the variation in the beach areas, from sand to these rocky areas.  And the sound of those waves coming in.  Nothing like it.







This statue is a memorial
to the storm victims of The
Great Storm of 1900.









  A bench with information about Hurricane Ike.

At this point, we probably should have taken advantage of a place to sit.  Like I said, it was a looonngg way down there.  And it kept getting farther away!  But still, we trudged on.

After much sweat and many steps, we reached it.  We just wanted to see it.  Can you believe we went that far just to take pictures?  I can't!  




Our next day was spend on the Strand and seeing a little bit of the history of Galveston.  The Strand is their shopping area with interesting shops and boutiques.  If we had wanted a tattoo, there were plenty of places to get them down there!  Lunch was at a fun, old-fashioned soda shoppe.  

 Chess, anyone?

Galveston is home to an enormous amount of churches.  We are talking substantial, huge churches.  There is even a street named Church Street.  This is just one of them, located by Bishop's Palace.





Bishop's Palace was a fun place to tour.  I would recommend spending some of your time there if you find yourself in Galveston.





It was built between 1887 and 1893 and is sturdy enough to have withstood The Storm of 1900, along with all other hurricanes since then.


 Our next day was spent on the beach.  









 Every time these birds landed on this sign, they sat in the exact same order and place.  And they had quite lively conversations! 







The only thing missing here is the sound of the waves.  Nothing like it.


There were so many things to see.  We went out in the late afternoon and saw these sights.


These trees are in yards around the area that was hit hard by Hurricane Ike.  The trees were damaged, so they were carved into wonderful statues.  What a neat way to make the best of a horrible situation.
Astro Dog!
My personal favorite.  :-)
   
 
The sailing ship Elissa
 The Elissa is the largest sailing ship in the United States that is still operational.  Unfortunately, they have to take the sails down in port.  I mean, if you've been to Galveston, you know about the wind.

These offshore drilling rigs were in port for repair.  Massive.  The tall towers are the part that go down to anchor the rig out at sea.
This is called "High Tide".  Makes me think of Peter Pan.  "I can fly, I can fly, I can fly!"












 
We had such a wonderful time.  And as we left, I could swear that "I still heard her sea winds blowing."

Good-bye for now, Galveston!



Saturday, June 27, 2015

Books by Oklahoma Authors - Some of the Best Around!


For those of you who haven't been exposed to children's literature in a while, you are truly missing out.  I may be biased, but I think it is some of the best literature around.  All genres of children's literature have come so far since I was a kid.  

Being a member of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) for the past few years has taught me so much as a writer.  I have learned a wealth of information about the craft through the conferences, speakers and connections I have made.   

But the even better part about it is the friendships I have formed with some of these  authors.   Here are some examples of great picture books by these very talented writers.  Don't miss them!




Tumbleweed Baby by Anna Myers
    illustrated by Charles Vess


    Anna Myers has become a friend of mine and I am so blessed to glean from her knowledge of children's literature.  She has written 19 books prior to Tumbleweed Baby.  These were all middle grade historical fiction novels.  This is her first picture book.
     Tumbleweed Baby is about an already large family during the Dust Bowl days.  The family finds a "tumbleweed baby" near their home. The book goes on to show how the family decides whether this  "wild-all-over baby" will fit in, or won't.  Some of the siblings are accepting, but one is not so much.
     Anna's unique and talented voice blends with the illustrations by Charles Vess to create a "tall-tale" of sorts about her own family.  This is a great story for all ages!







 Ginny Louise and the School Showdown
    by Tammi Sauer, Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

      What can I say about Ginny Louise?  I love this book!  Tammi Sauer is one of our most talented authors.  Chances are great that you have heard of her or her work.  Her picture books are the best blend of wit, story, and sass. 
     Ginny Louise is the new hedgehog in school.  When she encounters the school's three bullies, she meets their meanness with her cheerfulness, and in the end good wins out!  Tammi and Lynn Munsinger have done a great job of tackling a big problem without it being a "lesson heavy" story. 
     Tammi has won awards for her books, and I fully expect to see this one with an award on it very soon.
     Tammi will also soon be recognized by the city of Edmond on the first, official "Tammi Sauer Day" on July 9th.  On that very day she will also be signing her book at Best of Books in Edmond, so put that on your calendar!
     After you put that down on your calendar, run out and get Ginny Louise and the School Showdown



                                         

                                                                Grrr...Night!  by Susan York Meyers and Marla F. Jones

     Woolsey the little monster isn't ready to go to nightmare land when his Granny tucks him in.  This is a story every child can relate to, but told in such a cute and unique way.  The words are inviting and the pictures superb.  Get this one for your little one's new bedtime story!

    These two are also friends of mine and very talented!  I look forward to more wonderful books coming from both of them.

     

 

Una Belle Townsend has written several great books  set in Oklahoma.  Her newest one is The Great Elephant Escape, illustrated by Janice Hechter.

In 1975, two baby elephants escape from the circus.  The authorities searched for 18 days before they found them!  These two clever elephants were great at playing hide and seek throughout Oklahoma.  Such a fun book!  Kids will love how clever the elephants are while enjoying our wonderful scenery and learning a little more about what makes this a great state!

 

 

Last, but certainly not least,  is Extraordinary Jane by Hannah Harrison.

Jane is an ordinary dog in the world of the extraordinary.  Her family are all circus dogs, but all her attempts to be extraordinary fail miserably.

Finally, through much trying, she discovers that is more than enough just to be herself, and that friendship is the most extraordinary thing of all. 

Hannah is a very talented storyteller and illustrator.  She won the 2015 Oklahoma Book Award for the category of Design/Illustration/Photography for Extraordinary Jane!

 

I would recommend all of these books for kids of all ages, from 0-99.  Read them for yourself, to your kids, or grandkids.  And, if all else fails, I'm sure you have friends who would loan you their kids for a few days while you read all of these great books to them!  :-)


Have a great weekend!


 

 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Who Could Resist a Road Trip Like This?! - Day 3

     I'll get back to reviewing books in my next post, but I had to finish sharing about our great Southwest road trip.
     In my last post, I shared about the amazing day we had at the Grand Canyon.  
     We headed out of Flagstaff early and took off northeast toward the Four Corners area.  Our goals were Four Corners and mostly, Mesa Verde.  We were staying that night in Durango.  Ahhh.....
     We weren't long out of Flagstaff before the topography changed drastically.  Still lots of mountains, but the trees were gone.  Just like that.  Vamoose!  It was also pretty sparse as far as towns and people go.  That part of the state is on the Navajo reservation.  


      We discovered that my tail light was out when we made a pit stop, so we went to the next town (quite far down the road) because we had seen a billboard for a NAPA auto parts store.  We finally found the store and got the bulb.  This was in Kayenta, Arizona, which is at the base of Monument Valley.  We could see some of the rock formations but, because of that stinkin' tiny light bulb, we didn't have time to drive out there.  We still had several miles before Four Corners and Mesa Verde.

   




 I'm not sure what I had expected Four Corners to be, but it is in the middle of nowhere.  That still
doesn't take away from the fact that it was totally cool to be in four states at once!  










We got in line to take our pictures on the monument, then shopped at all the little stalls.  They were on all four sides, so you were shopping in each state.  We shopped in four states in about 30 minutes!  That's not something you do every day!  Or ever!
     We used the facilities, aka outhouse, lol, and headed on our way.





 
     Next stop, Mesa Verde.  
     Unbelievably gorgeous.  
     Denice looks so cute and I look like a dork.
     I don't think I was ready when our guest photographer took the picture.  But, oh well, right?





  

     We stopped at the visitor center and got the scoop on a self guided tour.  It was already late afternoon and we didn't want to miss seeing the Spruce House, so that was our plan.






  It's quite a drive on a twisty mountain road from the Visitor's Center up to the pueblos, but it was worth it.  



 I know, right?


  We made it!  




The last known date that these dwellings were inhabited was the 1300's.
 
              If walls could talk.



      It was inhabited by the Ancestral Pueblo people.  They lived in the dwellings for over 700 years.  To say it is amazing is an understatement.

      We tore ourselves away from there to make it to our stop for the night...Durango, Colorado.

     It really is colorful!  I've been all over Colorado, but had never been to Durango.  Let's just say, we would have been happy to stay there for a while!  
     As we were coming into town, gawking at the breathtaking scenery, a bear crossed the road.  Right in front of us!
     We had now seen elk, deer, squirrels, and a big black bear!  He was heading across that road on a mission...and made a beeline right to a house by the road.  He probably was a regular "visitor" there and knew where their trashcans were.
     We were so surprised that we didn't get a picture!  Such disappointment, because it isn't every day you see a bear cross the road right in front of your car.  But the next morning, as we were heading out of town, we found his portrait!

                                          So we were happy!  :-)
 
     The rest of the trip was uneventful, comparatively speaking.  But it was a trip of memories and beauty and wonder.  I'll forever be thankful that Denice and I got to see all of it.  And we both added two states to our list, and two National Parks.  
     Thanks you so much for reading about our great Southwest road trip!