I AM OKLAHOMA – Darleen Bailey Beard – Interviews with Authors Behind the Series

I am honored to be hosting five delightful and talented fellow OK SCBWI writers this week in anticipation of their fantastic new series for children, which debuts October 6th. It’s called I AM OKLAHOMA Children’s Series, and each book is a biography about an important Oklahoman who helped make this state great.
 I Am Oklahoma
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This series is the brainchild of Darleen Bailey Beard, author of six published books, including The Babbs Switch StoryTwisterThe FlimFlam ManOperation Clean SweepThe Pumpkin Man from Piney Creek and Annie Glover is not a Tree Lover. I’ve interviewed Darleen previously on the blog. It was right after she let me hang out with her during a school visit a few years ago. She really knows how to connect with kids, and get them excited about reading. (Read the interview here.)

Let’s find out more about this brand new series and how it all came together.

The Interview

 

Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this project? 

Darleen Bailey Beard: I got the idea for this series when I did an author visit many years ago at Houchin Elementary in Moore. The librarian there, Nancy Marshall, told me that I should write a series about famous Oklahomans on a 3rd-4th grade reading level. She said she couldn’t find enough books on that level for her students who study Oklahoma history.

She even showed me a coloring book that she was actually giving to her stu-dents (ripping out pages for them to use) which featured famous Oklahomans and each page had just a sentence or two describing each person. So . . . as I finished out my author visits that year and even the following year, I mentioned this to the many librarians I met and received an overwhelming “YES! WE NEED THIS SERIES!”

 

VL: That coloring book scene is rather pathetic, and makes me want to get involved, too – what a lack of available resources! Yet at the same time, how creative was that librarian?

 

What was your next step in bringing this project to life? 

DBB: I mentioned the series idea at Encyclo-Media and I realized that there was indeed, an overwhelming need, when 90% of the room raised their hands when I asked if there was a need for this series. So . . .  I met with Jane McKellips, an author friend of mine, and we discussed the possibility of writing such a series. We mentioned it to our other writing friends who said they’d like to get in on the series, too, and here we are.

 

VL: Once you took on this major project, how easy was it to sell this much-needed idea to a publisher?

DBB: We tried getting several publishers interested in our series but no one wanted to take it on until we met with the Oklahoma Heritage Association (OHA). The only problem they had, though, was that they needed a donor to come up with the money needed to publish the series.

It was a l-o-n-g five year wait, we almost gave up—but our patience paid off—and a donor came through and here we are with our first set of five books about famous Oklahomans. And what made it even more special for us, is that OHA is donating a FREE set of all five books to every public elementary school in the state of Oklahoma. Now how cool is that???

 

VL: That is fantastic! And this is the first set of five? Does that mean we can expect more books in this series in the future?

DBB: We “hope” there will be more in the series.  Since OHA is a non-profit organization, that means OHA has to get donations/grants from outside sources to fund their publishing endeavors. So we are hoping another donor will come up with the necessary money for the next set of five biographies, especially when he/she sees the success of the first five books. So for now, OHA is looking for donors. Any donors out there who want to support OK history and education? Let OHA know!

 

VL: Looks like a worthy cause to me. I wish you luck!


Tell us about your book in the series.

WILL Cover 2

 

DBB: I was fortunate enough to write my book on Will Rogers. I say “fortunate enough” because I found so much information, so many fun and intriguing stories, and thousands and thousands of photos which made the writing of my book much easier. I went through his museums in Claremore, looked through album after album of photos of him and his family, talked with the museum directors and staff, and absolutely loved writing this book.
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Will Rogers, obviously, was before my time, so I didn’t really know a lot about him, but I soon learned how wonderful of a man and humanitarian he was. He’s known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son” and is still to this day one of the most quoted men who ever lived. He was the highest-paid actor of his time, the highest-paid radio host of his time, an international star at the Ziegfeld Follies, and one of the most-loved men in the world during the 1930s. But what impressed me even more than his talent, his fame, his humor, and his roping skills, was his simple, honest heart of gold. Really.

 

VL: Can you give us an example?

DBB: Here’s a story that’s in my book that all of us can learn from: When Will started first grade (there wasn’t kindergarten in his day) he was six years old. The closest school for him to attend was near his grown sister’s house, so he moved in with his sister and rode a little chestnut mare to school every day. Little Willie, as he was called, was only six years old, yet he was concerned with the welfare of his classmates. He noticed that they didn’t have much to eat in their lunch buckets, so he always shared his lunches. He also noticed that the girls in his school wore ripped and ragtag dresses.

This bothered him. So he wrote a letter to his mother, asking if she would buy a bolt of calico and send it to his teacher so that his teacher could sew new dresses for all twelve girls. And that’s exactly what happened. So here he was—only six years old!—already showing love and concern for others. This con- cern and love for others lasted his entire life and career. And that’s just one of the many stories in my book which show what kind of a special and loving man he truly was.  After I finished my biography, I was so inspired by this man that I wanted to be a better person. It’s my hope that readers of my book will also be inspired to be better people because of Will’s true love for others.

 

VL: Amazing story! I’m sure kids would love to learn more about him, too.

What are you currently working on?

DBB: Just the other day I got an agent! Yea!  Marietta Zacker whom I met through one of our SCBWI conferences. She is going to represent me and said that she wants to mail my book out to several editors at once and we’ll see what happens.

My book is called, “Wiley, Muley, & Me” and it takes place during the Great Depression in 1931, is set in southeast Oklahoma in a lumber camp, and is about a girl who moves to a new lumber camp and finds a starving mule in the woods. At the same time, a very famous flight (a real historical flight) was taking place—the flight of Wiley Post and Harold Gatty who were hoping to break the world record for the fastest flight around the world. As the book moves along, the adventure to save the mule and the adventure to fly around the world become entwined. It’s about 220 pages and I’m crossing my fingers it will sell this year…

So for your readers out there who haven’t sold a book in a while don’t give up hope. Keep trying and your day will come. And for those readers out there who haven’t sold a book yet, you will. But you’ve got to keep writing and keep revising (revision is the only way to sell a book!) and keep believing in yourself. You can do it!

 

VL: Yes, perseverance is the key! Congratulations, Darleen! Well done! Thanks so much for sharing your time with us, today.

And congratulations to all the authors contributing to the series. Tomorrow we talk with Jane McKellips. 

Learn more about Darleen Bailey Beard here.

Follow her on Facebook here.

 

 

 

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