January Reading Challenges Update

Reading ChallengesRock

Reading ChallengesRock

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve upped my reading goal to 80 books for this year. That’s a little insane since I’ve never met my reading goal. Ever. I did come close last time, so maybe I was feeling brave and a little drunk on new year’s resolutions the day I made that goal. Who knows?

I’ve made a sizable dent already by reading eleven books this month. Woohoo! That is a personal record. Maybe I wasn’t so crazy setting that goal.

Anyway, I am currently participating in three reading challenges (I picked up a Reading Bingo Challenge from a blog friend and fellow book lover) and I want to share my progress for this month, and some of the books I’ve read so far.

 

ROCK-1#RockMyTBR 2016 Reading Challenge I’ve tweeted my accomplishments, but haven’t taken advantage of the buddy reads idea, yet. I think I’ll try that next month.

The books from my TBR pile I’ve managed to clear off already are:

THE SKIN GAME (The Dresden Files #15) by Jim Butcher

skingame_lg-200x300Jim Butcher really knows how to layer a story with complex plots and how to keep you guessing to the very end. One thing I love more than anything is his use of humor. Even in the midst of the worst moments, his main character, Harry, can throw out a fantastic quip that has me rolling and also wondering if he isn’t just a bit insane. I absolutely love this series, and I am fascinated by the depth of characters and story lines that Butcher weaves into each one. The dynamic between Harry and his badass pint-sized sidekick Murphy is pure genius and she is also one of my favorite female characters in this genre – yep, the vanilla human with no magical powers who dares to fight monsters.

Butcher is the king of taking his characters so close to what they want and having it ripped away from them, just to be put through the worst possible scenarios while taking a hell of a beating as they try to survive by any means necessary. On occasion they don’t survive, which breaks our hearts even more. And yet, I still can’t stop reading each book at a break-neck pace. I’m already anticipating the release of PEACE TALKS (book #16) later this year.

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day….

Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.

He doesn’t know the half of it….

Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.

It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.

Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…(Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Jim Butcher here.

Follow Jim on Twitter here.

 

SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Abertalli

Simon vs Homo Sapiens coverI was intrigued by the title and the cover and by all of the online love this book received by writers I respect. This debut novel was well worth the time. I really enjoyed the secret relationship Simon had with Blue and how honest he could be with someone he didn’t really know. The lengths he went through to protect this relationship from being harmed – what made this one more real than others in his life? Great concept and so well executed.

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Becky Abertalli here.

Follow Becky on Twitter here.

Follow Becky on Tumblr here.

Follow Becky on Instagram here.

 

What books are on your TBR pile?

 

2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – I managed to read a couple off this list, too. Yay! I actually also read a book under 100 pages when I read through the entire SHATTER ME series, which included a couple of novellas, but I don’t want to count that towards this goal. There are some suggested readings in the discussions of the Book Riot’s Goodreads Read Harder Group that look more enticing. I love looking through the conversations here – so many great reading suggestions for each category! (You can also follow the Twitter hashtag #ReadHarder, if you’re curious.)

Read Harder Challenge Janjpg

Books I’ve read for this challenge:

 

ORBITING JUPITER by Gary Schmidt
(Read a middle grade novel)

Orbiting JupiterThis is another beautifully written book by the master storyteller. If you haven’t read any of his books, I urge you gather them all up now, sit back and enjoy. And I envy you that first-time read of some truly amazing stories.

Schmidt crafts a wonderful and heartbreaking story that draws you in and makes you feel everything for Jack and Joseph and makes you want so much more for them.

I love it when I close a book with tears still fresh in my eyes. Ah! such a great story!

When Jack meets his new foster brother, he already knows three things about him:

Joseph almost killed a teacher.

He was incarcerated at a place called Stone Mountain.

He has a daughter. Her name is Jupiter. And he has never seen her.

What Jack doesn’t know, at first, is how desperate Joseph is to find his baby girl.

Or how urgently he, Jack, will want to help.

But the past can’t be shaken off. Even as new bonds form, old wounds reopen. The search for Jupiter demands more from Jack than he can imagine.

This tender, heartbreaking novel is Gary D. Schmidt at his best. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Gary Schmidt here.

 

SHATTER ME by Tahereh Mafi
(Read the first book in a series by a person of color)

 

shatter-meI was drawn to the cover and the description of a character who’s touch is deadly. I wanted to know her story. Then this series fit in with this challenge as my selection for the first book in a series by a person of color. Of course, once I read the first book, I couldn’t just stop; I read the entire series, including the two novellas told from the two main male characters, Warner and Adam.

Mari has such a unique writing style. She has a beautiful use of language that paints vivid emotional pictures, and really draws you in to her story. Her heroine, Juliette was fantastic. I loved following her struggle to self-discovery and finding her own inner strength. Such a wonderful series.

Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war– and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice:
BE A WEAPON. OR BE A WARRIOR. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

 

What books have taken you out of your normal reading pattern this year?

 

Bookish Cassie’s Reading Bingo Challenge – Cassie is the dynamic gal behind the Reading Bingo JanBooks and Bowel Movements blog that I just love. Cassie is doing this reading challenge on her Instagram account, which makes fun and really easy. If you’re on Instagram, feel free to copy the picture and join in with the hashtag #readingbingo2016. It’s that simple. You can find me on Instagram at litbeing. You can find Cassie there at bookishcassie.

Books I’ve read for this challenge this month:

THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker
(A book that became a movie)

Color Purple coverThis is a book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. What finally made me pick it up was hearing how much the book impacted one particular reader. Author Matt de la Peña mentioned how influential this book was on him personally, and how surprised he was to see similarities in his life with that of Celie, the main character. Good enough recommendation for me.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and watching Celie discover her own inner strength and seeing her way to forgiveness over bitterness. Beautiful story.

Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to “Mister,” a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Alice Walker here.

 

WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart
(A book rec from someone in your family)

We Were Liars coverMy daughter recommended this book to me. She rarely steers me wrong. This one was no exception. I love when a book surprises me and moves me. This one did both.

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate,
political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about E. Lockhart here.

Follow E. Lockhart on Twitter here.

Watch E. Lockhart read the opening of WE WERE LIARS here.

Follow the WE WERE LIARS Tumblr page here.

 

So what have you been reading, lately? What are you looking forward to reading next?

 

 

A New Year, A New Blog – Let’s Get Serious!

After a most tumultuous year, I’m ready to get back to work on my writing in earnest. I have two manuscripts that need one good revision each, and then some beta reading and feedback, and one final polish before I’m ready to shove them out of the nest to watch them soar to the sky or crash and burn. I also have one other manuscript with some exciting interest that I need to finish. Pronto. This means making some changes to my daily routine to ensure I’m focused and productive.

Every. Single. Day.

 

My office bulletin board before changes…
…and after! Complete with goal-tracking calendar and shiny stickers! (This is an older picture; there are a lot more stickers on there, now. Trust me!)

 

 

Another thing I’ve done is reviewed my outside commitments. As I’ve taken on a much larger role with my local SCBWI group, (I’m now the Social Media Coordinator for SCBWI Oklahoma and co-host for the monthly #okscbwichat we hold on Twitter) I’ve decided to pull back from participating in the group blog The Great Noveling Adventure. I will miss TGNA tremendously, but this will allow me to spend more time completing my manuscripts, and prepping them for submission – my major goal for the year!

I’ve also revamped my vision for this blog and have planned out some exciting ideas for the coming year.

Here are some of the changes coming soon:

With a reading goal for the year of 80 books and a starting TBR pile of 50 books, I'll have plenty of books to read.
A preview of my current TBR pile numbering 50 books at present. I hope to read all of these before the end of the year…and then some!

I will continue to read, read, read, and to encourage you all to do the same.

I’m participating in a few reading challenges, and I will share my progress along the way – as well as any fantastic books I discover. As always, I hope you share any books you fall in love with, too.

I will also introduce a read-along book club to share some of my favorite reads this year. Nothing too stressful or demanding, but a bit more interactive. And an excuse to re-read some of my faves of all time. (And get others to read them!)

Speaking of interactive, I have a strong desire to practice writing short stories. I know it’s an area that can help me expand my writing skills. (We should never stop learning or expanding or skills, right?)

To encourage others to write, write, write, along with me I’ll be introducing a monthly flash fiction writing prompt that might even involve some prizes to add some excitement.

 

One Flash Fiction prompt could be using a picture like this and prompting you to tell a story about this boy...
One Flash Fiction prompt could be using a picture like this and prompting you to tell a story about this boy…

 

I’ll still include the popular book reviews and craft posts and the odd personal story or interview from time to time to keep things lively.

One more new addition will be a monthly #TBT (ThrowBack Thursday) post where I will share some of my favorites that I originally posted over on the TGNA blog.

I hope you enjoy the changes, and join in the some of the more interactive activities.

Should be fun!

Here’s to a productive new year to all!

-Valerie

 

 

 

Reading Challenges for 2016

Reading ChallengesRock

I adore reading challenges. They give me an excuse to indulge in one of my favorite activities, reading books! They also help me expand my reading scope, and let me try out different authors or genres that I wouldn’t necessarily come to on my own.TBR Challenge Books

I’m about to successfully complete the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge I signed up for. Woohoo! Look at all these books I’m going to finish reading thanks to this fun challenge!

Now I’m looking forward to next year’s challenges. I’ve picked out two new ones as the Roof Beam Reader blog won’t be hosting the TBR Pile Challenge anymore.

#RockMyTBR 2016 Reading Challenge – I had so much fun participating in a TBR Pile challenge last year, that I wanted to try another reading challenge that had to do with TBRs this year. I fear I will never run out of books for this type of challenge, and it helps me pull books from the bottom of my TBR pile at least once a month. This year’s TBR reading challenge promises more interaction with Twitter chats, and also encourages you to read with a buddy.

ROCK-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – This reading challenge wants you to expand your reading tastes, or at least sample things from other menus. “We encourage you to push yourself, to take advantage of this challenge as a way to explore topics or formats or genres that you otherwise wouldn’t try. But this isn’t a test. No one is keeping score and there are no points to post. We like books because they allow us to see the world from a new perspective, and sometimes we all need help to even know which perspectives to try out. That’s what this is – a perspective shift – but one for which you’ll only be accountable to yourself.”

There are 24 tasks to accomplish in this challenge. (See chart below.) You can add to the challenge experience by joining in social media discussions either on Book Riot’s Goodreads Read Harder Group or by following the Twitter hashtag #ReadHarder.

I’m already planning out the books I’ll be reading. The interaction on the Goodreads site is really helpful in giving you ideas for books to choose for each task. I’m very excited about this one!

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016

 

If a reading challenge sounds like something you might enjoy, there are a wide variety to choose from, including:

The Cloak and Dagger Challenge – A challenge for mystery, crime, suspense, and thriller book enthusiasts.

Banned Books Challenge – This challenge encourages you to read books that have been banned or challenged.

Around the World Challenge – The goal of this challenge is to visit as many different and unusual places around the world through books as possible.

2016 Debut Author Challenge – The goal of this challenge is to introduce readers to this year’s wonderful group of debut authors.

And there are so many more – I found some challenges for Jane Austen readers, readers of comic books, horror, romance, steampunk, you name it. Whatever you’re interested in, I’m sure there’s a challenge out there just waiting for you.

So what are you waiting for? Set some reading goals for 2016 and have some fun doing it!

 

 

Great Reads Make Great Gifts – a TGNA post

tgnahead

 

It’s Travel Tuesday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m sharing some great lists of top reads of the year for all of you bibliophiles out there.

 

 

Here’s a preview:

It’s a bibliophile’s favorite time of year – the time of year when everyone reveals their top picks for the best reads of the year!

This is where book addicts of every stripe can indulge their habit, and find even more books to love. If you or someone dear to you has an empty space on a bookshelf that needs to be filled with a good story, a wonderful new book to make you (*cough* or a friend) feel whole again, here are some fabulous top reading lists to check out.

Do your part to help orphan books find a forever home.

Adopt a new (or gently used) book, today!

 

 

To see the rest of the post, and to view all the fabulous links, click here.

 

 

TweetIf you’d like some company as you write, please join us each week day morning on Twitter!

I host AM #wordsprints over on the TGNA group Twitter handle @Novel_Adventure from 6-8am CST. We sprint in 20 minute blocks with ten minute breaks in between each session. This season, I’m throwing in some fun challenges each day to keep things interesting.

Hope to see you there!

I AM OKLAHOMA – Gwendolyn Hooks – Interviews with Authors Behind the Series

gwen July 2
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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Today, I am interviewing the final author in the series, the lovely and talented Gwendolyn Hooks. She is the author of twenty published books, including her popular Pet Club series. Two of her Scholastic early readers, The Mystery of the Missing Dog and Three’s A Crowd, sold over 100,000 copies each. She’s also written nonfiction picture books, including Arctic Appetizers: Studying Food Webs in the Arctic. In 2016, Lee & Low will publish her picture book biography, Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. 

Gwendolyn blogs on The Brown Bookshelf to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing and illustrating for young readers. The American Library Association selected The Brown Bookshelf as a Great Website for Kids.

 

The Interview

 

gwen July 2

Valerie Lawson: How did you become involved in this project? 

Gwendolyn Hooks: It pays to have wonderful friends like Darleen Bailey Beard. We’re in a critique group with Jane McKellips and Pati Hailey. Darleen talked about the need for younger Oklahoma biographies and we agreed.

 

VL: The right critique group is so essential! And what an amazing group you have!

 

How did you choose your book’s subject? 

Leona Cover 2

GH: A few years ago, I went to a Christmas concert sponsored by Langston University’s music department. Leona Mitchell was the featured singer.

She was amazing. Her voice was so strong and beautiful; I sat mesmerized. She gracefully twirled around the room, sometimes a little flirty. The audience loved her.

How did this lady from Enid, Oklahoma, end up in opera houses all over the world? It was a question I wanted to answer.

 

VL: Excellent question! As a native from Enid, I grew up passing a street every day named after her. I never knew much about her life, except that she was an opera singer. I can’t wait to read this story!

What did you discover most surprising about researching Leona Mitchell’s life? 

GH: The number of brothers and sisters.

14!

I listened to an interview when she was asked to name her siblings. She did it so effortlessly. I think I would have stumbled and forgotten a few of those names. Maybe more than a few.

VL: Astounding! I can barely keep my siblings straight, and there are only 4 of them.

What made her a great Oklahoman?

GH: Throughout her career, Leona has always said Oklahoma was her home. She credits her family, her high school music teacher, and the music department at Oklahoma City University for her success.

And I felt her state pride when I heard her sing our state song, Oklahoma. Sometimes it was hard for her to get back to Enid, but it’s forever in her heart.

VL: If you continue with this project, whom would you like to write about next?

GH: Oklahoma has a lot of fascinating people who have made this an extraordinary state. There are libraries and schools named after people, but I bet a lot of children have no idea who they are or what they contributed to Oklahoma. A few years ago, I taught at Kerr Middle School. I bet 95% of the students had no idea why Kerr was chosen for that honor. I think that’s also true about the Ralph Ellison library.

I moved to Oklahoma when I was in high school and attended Northeast High School. One year, I went to Dunjee High School in Spencer for a Student Council conference. At that time, Dunjee was just the school’s name. It was much later that I found out he was the publisher and editor of the Black Dispatch newspaper. He published it from 1915-1955. It continued to be published until the early 1980s.

The Black Dispatch was the paper the African American community read to find out when Count Basie was coming to play on Deep Second, what social club was hosting a gala, and the latest church news. Dunjee was also known for his commitment to civil rights and wrote editorials blasting unfair laws. He questioned why African Americans were required to pay for bonds that only supported white schools. He worked with Thurgood Marshal who became a Supreme Court Justice. The more I research Dunjee, the more I’m captivated by him.

 

VL: That is so fascinating. And a part of our history that isn’t really taught in schools. I’d love to read that story!

What are you currently working on?

GH: I am working on another picture book biography. I really enjoy reading and writing them. I love history and I would love to bring new life to these fascinating personalities and show young readers why they are important to all of us.

My next biography is scheduled to be published in April 2016 by Lee and Low Books. Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas is the story of an African American who only had a high school education, and yet designed the operation that allowed doctors to save the lives of babies born with tetralogy of Fallot or blue babies.

VL: I am so beyond excited about this book. I know it’s going to be amazing. You’ve worked really hard to tell this beautiful and important story about Vivien Thomas. 

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us and your wonderful stories. 

 

Learn more about Gwendolyn Hooks here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Follow her on Facebook here.

Follow the Brown Bookshelf blog here.

 

 

 

I AM OKLAHOMA – Cheryl Schuermann – Interviews with Authors Behind the Series

SchuermC-113
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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Today, I am interviewing the fourth author, Cheryl Schuermann. She is the author of JORDAN TANG: Think…Create…Discover, a biography about Oklahoma scientist, Dr. Jordan Tang. This is her second published book, and her first one for children.

 

The Interview

 

SchuermC-113Valerie Lawson: How did you become involved with this project?

Cheryl Schuermann: Through conversations with media specialists in our state. Darleen Bailey Beard heard of a nonfiction gap on our elementary school bookshelves. Teachers were telling her they needed biographies of notable Oklahomans who have made significant contributions to our state.


Since 2000, I have been in dozens of schools in Oklahoma and across the country as a literacy consultant and staff development trainer. Teachers have often asked for recommendations of quality nonfiction text at the mid-elementary reading levels. So, when Darleen asked me to consider being a part of this writing team, the answer was an enthusiastic YES! All of us were thrilled to have an opportunity to work with Gini Campbell (Vice President of Publications & Education) and Oklahoma Heritage Association Publishing.


VL: What drew you to Dr. Tang for your book’s subject? 

CS: The significance of Dr. Tang’s work at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation has far reaching implications around the world. Over the past fifty plus years, his discoveries in the lab have changed the landscape of medical research. Drugs have been developed to treat several diseases such as diabetes and AIDS and to increase the potential for cures. Many lives have been saved as a result of Dr. Tang’s dedication to medical research science.


I was also drawn to Dr. Tang for personal reasons. My mother suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, a devastating disease that is stealing her most treasured memories. In 1999, Dr. Tang discovered an enzyme which he named memapsin 2. This enzyme is believed to be the cause of Alzheimer’s. Since his discovery, researchers around the world, including Dr. Tang, have worked tirelessly to find a cure.


So often, the greatest contributors to mankind are behind the scenes. Although Jordan Tang is known and respected in the medical research community around the globe, many in Oklahoma are not aware of his significant work. My hope is that everyone who reads about this scientist will be inspired by his commitment and children will be excited to learn more about science.

VL: That is incredible. He’s definitely an Oklahoman worth getting to know.

What will readers be surprised to learn about when reading this book? 

 

TANG Cover 2

CS: Possibly how many times scientists may go through the six steps of the scientific process before reaching the desired results. Most often it takes years of dedication in the laboratory, learning as much from those experiments that do not work as from those that do work.


When scientists reach Step Six in the scientific process, they take what they learned, and start all over again with Step One–a new question, hypothesis, and experiment. A good scientist will say, “Okay, now that I know this, what else can I learn?” Those brilliant minds do not stop after a discovery. They are only motivated to learn more.


VL: That sounds a bit like the never-ending revision process for writers!

What made Dr. Tang a great Oklahoman?

CS: Jordan Tang came to Oklahoma in 1955 as a graduate student in biochemistry. His commitment to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and his many scientific discoveries helped to make the foundation the well-known and well-respected facility it is today. Dr. Tang’s breakthroughs in the laboratory have forever changed medical research and the health of millions.


VL: This isn’t your first experience in publication. What can you tell us about your first book?


CS: No, this is my second published book. When the Water Runs: Growing Up with Alaska was released in 2008. A work of creative nonfiction, this book details my mother’s extraordinary childhood north of the Arctic Circle in the Territory of Alaska. She spent the first thirteen years of her life in an Eskimo village and gold mining camps. Her parents, my grandparents, were teachers in Selawik, a remote village of about 300 Eskimos. In addition, they wore the hats of physician, midwife, postmaster, and reindeer superintendent. After writing this book, I was hooked! I love writing about people who inspire us.   Jordan Tang: Think … Create … Discover is my first book for children.


VL: Sounds like a fascinating life, indeed. I can see why it would inspire you.


What did you learn about the process of writing from this project?

 

CS: Well, I learned how hard it is to stay within a designated word count when there’s so much to know about Jordan Tang! I could have gone on and on about the man and his work. He is amazing.


Another challenge was to write about laboratory research science and make it interesting for children. When I told Dr. Tang that I wanted to include a chapter about “life in a laboratory” he said, “Oh no, that is very boring!” Hopefully, children will find those chapters appealing and will wonder what they themselves might discover one day. I said this earlier, but I definitely learned how much I love writing about people, those who encourage us to be better, learn more, and accept a challenge with commitment, enthusiasm and energy.


VL: Ha ha! I love that he recognized what children would find boring. Clever man.


What’s next for you? Are you working on another book? 

CS: Hopefully, I will continue to write for the I Am Oklahoma series as the experience has been most rewarding. These books hold a significant place in our elementary school curriculum. We anticipate great success with this series and I have already begun researching and writing about other Oklahomans who have contributed much to our state and beyond.

 

Your question made me laugh! As most writers, I have an assortment of other works in progress on my desktop to include ones that are near completion, halfway there, and several “just an idea” that popped into my head at 2:30 in the morning. My main focus is on children’s books, though my husband and I are working on a new blog site and book to help and encourage parents as they raise their children.

 

VL: I can relate to that “assortment of works in progress” for sure! I wish you luck on them all, and congratulations on this new book!

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Cheryl.

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up this wonderful series with author Gwendolyn Hooks.

Learn more about Cheryl Schuermann here.

I AM OKLAHOMA – Pati Hailey – Interviews with Authors Behind the Series

Pati Hailey Pic
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
 .

Today, I am interviewing the next author in the series, the dynamic and divine Pati Hailey. Over her career, Pati has written state legislation, online training for large corporations, lesson plans for teachers, and literature for children and adults. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and schools. Pati’s articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines, including Cricket and Hopscotch. Her contribution to this series, TE ATA: Oklahoma Cultural Treasure, is her first published children’s book.

 

The Interview

 

Pati Hailey PicValerie Lawson: What excited you about this project? 

Pati Hailey: People have fascinated me since my earliest memories – picture a preschooler, so shy she can’t tell you her name, sent to stand in the corner for asking a grownup personal questions. Although I never found those corners interesting, what I heard while standing in them was.

How people live and dress, what they believe and value, what they think about, what they find entertaining, who they love and hate, what motivates and demotivates them, and so much more intrigues me.

The idea that I could share that fascination with kids by writing biographies about important Oklahomans was my first surge of excitement. When I began the project, Te Ata was unknown to me. Getting to know her through my research sustained that initial excitement. Talk about a fascinating person!

 

VL: Curious from the beginning – perfect for a writer’s temperament. 

How did you get involved in the project? TE ATA Cover 2

PH: Darleen Bailey Beard brought the idea to our critique group after a school librarian told her of the desperate need for biographies about Oklahomans written at 3rd and 4th grade level.

When Darleen asked if the group was interested in pursuing filling the need, I immediately wanted to be involved even though it would pull me away from other projects of great importance to me.

VL: Good thing you took advantage of this opportunity when it presented itself.

You’ve had many writing occupations, how did that prepare you for the world of children’s writing? 

PH:  My B.A. is in Human Resources with an emphasis in juvenile delinquency. My first profession was as a caseworker and counselor. Soon after I started, my boss assigned the projects requiring writing skills to me. I didn’t know then that many professions require strong basic writing skills, and it was years before I understood that many, many people find writing difficult, even the basics. I never had.

What I’ve learned along the way is that those basic writing skills transfer regardless of whether I am writing case notes, legislation, technical or people-management training, online communication or marketing, processes and procedures, articles for newspapers and magazines or even emails. All require concise wording, carefully structured so that the meaning is not misinterpreted. (Okay, legislation might be an exception!) Writing for children requires the same basic skills.

VL: So true! Wish more of an emphasis were placed on strong writing skills for all, but I digress.

How did you choose the subject for your project in this series?

PH: We wanted the series to be reflective of Oklahoma’s diversity in ethnicity, sex, and vocation so our design had specific criteria for the first set. One was that each of the five subjects represent a different part of the state. When we first came to the drawing board, two of us had chosen someone from central Oklahoma and we had no representation from southeastern Oklahoma. We also needed another female. So, I started researching and when I came across Te Ata’s story, I was immediately hooked.

VL: How was she a great Oklahoman?

PH: Te Ata faced incredible challenges as a Native American and as a woman throughout her life. She was a talented performing artist from the Chickasaw tribe and even performed on Broadway. What made her a great Oklahoman was that for more than seventy years, she used her acting talent to show people around the world the beauty and wisdom of Native American cultures through her one-person performance of Indian folklore Her determination, passion, and conviction helped change opinions about Native Americans held by both powerful and ordinary people. Oklahoma honored her work by inducting her into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and by designating her as the first Oklahoma Cultural Treasure. The following quote says so much about her.

“I wanted to be of some service to my people and I wouldn’t allow myself to do anything in the program that would harm my people. I wanted to do something different from all the scalpings and wars that people were seeing in movies, and show the creative and spiritual side. I selected with care the things I did.”

Te Ata died in 1995 shortly before she turned one hundred. Today, people from all over the world come to the Chickasaw Cultural Center to learn and experience the Chickasaw culture. If Te Ata were born today, practicing Chickasaw traditions would not be taboo. What a great Oklahoma role model for living a thoughtful, purposeful life.

VL: Wow! She was indeed a fascinating person. 

What have you learned from this publishing experience?

PH: This was a challenging project for me. I’ve always admired writers who work in early chapter books because not only are you restricted to a low word count, you are restricted to a specific readability level. I often found that the word that best conveyed what I was trying to say was too advanced for this age group.

As I came to know Te Ata through my research, it became ever more important that I write about her life with the same thoughtfulness, care and honesty that she exhibited. My biggest challenge was writing about Te Ata’s work and its impact in contextual terms third and fourth graders could grasp.

I could not simply say she was born in Indian Territory and move on, I had to discuss the impact Oklahoma becoming a state had on her life as a Chickasaw. I could not say she grew up to be a talented actress without discussing how she used her talent as the means to achieving her life-purpose of preserving the culture of Native Americans. Which meant discussing why the culture was being lost. In 1900 words.

VL: That seems quite the daunting task, and yet you did accomplish this. Wonderful!

What advice can you pass on to other writers?

PH: Hone the basic skills until they are automatic. Don’t be lazy or afraid to stretch and pick up advanced skills and knowledge. If you aspire to writing as a profession, be open to varied publishing opportunities. I had dreamed of writing biographies but I never imagined writing biographies for children as part of a series for the publishing arm of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Dare not only to dream, but to say yes to opportunities that stretch you.

VL: What’s next for you? What are you currently working on?

PH: A good night’s sleep! Then back to finishing my final semester of classes in pursuit of a MFA in Creative Writing at UCO with the goal of being an artist-in-residence.

I’ve turned my focus back to the two young adult novels I was working on before this project came along. One is in final revision (hopefully) and I’m about two-thirds through the rough draft of the second. Last week, characters from a third began talking to me, so I’m jotting down notes about it.

VL: What a wonderfully busy time for you! I can’t wait to read all about Te Ata and I wish you the best of luck with this book!

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us and your wonderful stories. 

Tomorrow, we’ll talk with author Cheryl Schuermann about her book from this series.