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

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.


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

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 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.






I AM OKLAHOMA – Jane McKellips – Interviews with Authors Behind the Series

Jane McKellips
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 second author, Jane McKellips. She is the author of BILL WALLACE: Author of Adventure and Animal Stories, a biography about Oklahoma native and children’s book author, Bill Wallace. This is her first published book. Her second, DUST STORM, will be released in early 2016.


The Interview


Jane McKellipsValerie Lawson: Welcome to the blog, Jane.

Jane McKellips: Thanks for asking to interview me about my book. It was a pleasure to meet Bill Wallace and to write this book about him. His children’s books are known all over this country and some have even been translated into Korean and Danish.

VL: You were involved with this project from its inception, what did you think when Darleen Bailey Beard brought this idea to you? Did you ever think it would become a reality?

JM: When Darleen first told me about the need for biographies of Oklahomans on a 3rd to 4th grade readability level, I thought it was a great idea for us to write them. I’d been a freelance writer for educational publishers for over 30 years and believed we could not only write text on that level, but make it interesting for that age group.

My only hesitation was in wondering what publisher would want to publish books only about Oklahomans. When we discovered Oklahoma Heritage Association Publishing, the publishing arm of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, was interested, it seemed like a match made in heaven!

VL: That was amazing! We need more stories like these in publishing!

WALLACE Cover 2How did you choose your book’s subject? JM: I chose the Chickasha, Oklahoma, children’s author Bill Wallace as the subject of my biography. I’d been a fan of his for a long time. I remember when his first published book, A Dog Called Kitty, was published. I enjoyed reading it, and knew many young students at that time who also loved the book. I was particularly interested in learning more about his writing career and believed students would, too.

VL: What was most surprising to you when you learned about Bill Wallace’s life?

JM: The most surprising thing I found out about Bill’s life was his reluctance to read when he was young. He said that he was a daydreamer in elementary school. His second-grade teacher thought he couldn’t read well, but an adult friend of the family brought him a book about reptiles. When Bill read the name of one of the reptiles in the book, the friend realized he could, indeed, read. He just needed to read books about things that interested him. Then, after he finished college, when he began teaching fourth graders, he realized there weren’t many books about adventures, a subject his fourth graders loved. He began writing adventure books so his students could enjoy reading the way he himself enjoyed it as a young student. And most of his adventure books also had animals in them.

VL: Yes! It’s all about engagement. Love that he did this for kids.

What made him a great Oklahoman?

JM: I believe it was his genuine love of his students and for students everywhere that made him a great Oklahoman. He saw a need for children’s adventure books and fulfilled that need. After he quit public school life, he not only continued to write children’s books, but also traveled all over the United States, speaking at schools and conferences. He made a huge impact on students when they heard him speak. For many, it was the first time they had heard of an adult who didn’t like to read as a young child. He was someone students could identify with and from him could learn how to better enjoy reading.

VL: This is your first published book, what’s next for you?

JM: My chapter book about Bill Wallace is my first published book, but I also have another book due to be released in early 2016. It’s an historical fiction picture book titled Dust Storm. Many of my ancestors lived in rural Oklahoma during the dust bowl era. One of them was a great aunt named Clara who, as a young child, had suffered from polio. It left her crippled and in need of braces and crutches for the rest of her life.

The main character in Dust Storm is Clara, an eleven-year-old girl who is loosely based on my great aunt. When most of the character’s family goes to a nearby town to shop, a ferocious dust storm strikes her farm. Clara works hard to save her little brother, the farm animals, and herself. I’ve always wanted to honor my great aunt and others in my family who were handicapped and had to struggle in life. I hope readers can feel my main character’s struggle and determination in Dust Storm. I so enjoyed writing Bill Wallace: Author of Adventure and Animal Stories and Dust Storm that I’ve already started researching facts about my next book about past Oklahoma life. I don’t want to give away the subject matter yet, but hopefully I’ll be ready to talk about it in 2016.

VL: Both books sounds fantastic, and I can’t wait to read them. Thank you so much for joining us, today. I wish you success with the new books!

JM: Thanks so much for interviewing me, Valerie! I enjoyed it.


Tomorrow, we’ll talk with another author from this series, Pati Hailey.


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

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.

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.




Interview with Ginny Sain – Actor, Writer, Celebrator of Boundless Imagination

Ginny Sain


We’ve been getting to know some of the faculty for our upcoming 2015 OK SCBWI “Fan the Spark” Fall Retreat through a series of Twitter Chats and now, right here on this blog.

Today, Ginny Sain stops by for an interview. As a faculty member of the Novel Track for the Fall Retreat, Ginny will share drama techniques to help writers with character development. Below, she’ll enlighten us on how acting and writing are more alike than one might think.

About Ginny

Ginny graduated summa cum laude from the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, in 1995 with a degree in theatre.  She has worked as an artist in residence teaching theatre arts workshops in Arkansas and Oklahoma schools as well as teaching and directing all classes, workshops, and productions for over 18 years with the very successful Stages Theatre for Youth program, an intensive actor training program for serious and dedicated young theatre artists in grades K-12, which she founded at the University of the Ozarks, where she also worked with college theatre students.

With more than 20 years of experience as a working director, choreographer, playwright, theatrical designer, performer, and theatre arts teacher, Ginny is thrilled to be back in Oklahoma as one of the founders of HeARTsong Creative Center, a creative and performing arts organization dedicated to providing professional quality arts programs and events that will encourage people of all ages to explore the depths of their souls, stretch the limits of their possibilities, celebrate the boundlessness of their own imaginations, and recognize the value of hard work paired with creativity.


The Interview

Ginny SainValerie Lawson: You grew up in a very literary household, and yet you chose the theatre. What about that medium called to you?

Ginny Sain: Oscar Wilde said, “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

I’ve always believe that. I’ve always been drawn to the immediacy and intimacy of communication that you get in the theatre – both with your fellow artistic collaborators, and especially with the audience.

VL: I love that – thinking of your audience as part of the art.

In the realm of theatre arts, you have been a teacher, director, choreographer, actor, playwright, etc., what aspect of the field do you enjoy the most?

GS: I love to act, but what I am most passionate about is teaching and directing young people who are serious about developing as theatre artists. I spent 20 years working with one amazing group of kids, taking many of them literally from kindergarten through high school graduation, and watching them grow and develop as artists, and as people from year to year.

The kind of theatre we were able to do together because of that, and the kind of community they built with each other – that was such a huge thing to be a part of, for them and for me. So many of them are out there doing amazing things now. No matter what else I do with my life I will always consider those students to be the most special thing I have ever been a part of, my greatest contribution to the world.

VL: That kind of continuity is rare, I would imagine. So fantastic!

How would you say that acting and writing are related? What can a writer learn from the theatre arts?

GS: For writers and actors, it’s all about developing real, honest, believable characters and bringing them to life for an audience. Both art forms are about creating something so real that, just for a little bit, people forget that those characters don’t exist.

In the theatre, we do a lot of character analysis work that I think would be very beneficial to writers. We learn to think about the whole life of the character, not just the aspects that figure directly into the story. We build a whole world and we spend time living there. For an actor, the key is asking questions and then, instead of deciding on an answer ourselves, letting the character answer those questions for us. And I think actors tend to ask those questions in a slightly different way than writers do. It’s a really interesting process that actors have.

VL: Yes! Let the character answer the questions. Wonderful.

For the Oklahoma SCBWI Fall Retreat this October, you are co-hosting the Novel Track with your mother, author Anna Myers, how will you be contributing to the workshop?

GS: I’ll be talking specifically about the character developement process we use in the theatre, and how writers can adapt that for their own work. I’m really excited about that. Hopefully, it will cause people to view their characters from a slightly different perspective.

VL: I’m so curious about this different perspective; I can’t wait to discover this new way of looking at my characters.

Tell us a little about your teen years growing up. What was the most embarrassing thing you experienced? What was the most memorable adventure you had with your friends?

GS: Well, you know my mother is going to read this, so……my friends and I spent most of our time just sitting around reading poetry and behaving ourselves.  Lol.  Honestly, my friends were theatre kids and show choir kids. And I grew up in a very small town. Our idea of adventure was, I’m sure by most standards, pretty tame. We were in rehearsal for one thing or another a lot of the time, and those were the best times I remember.

VL: Ha! Well, it was worth a shot. Actually, my daughter might read this, so…yes! That’s all good theatre kids should do – rehearse and read poetry.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

GS: I’ve been reading a lot of young adult books this last year.  I really enjoyed John Green’s “Looking for Alaska.” Like I said earlier, I’ve spent almost half my life working with teenagers, and I love them. And the voices in that particular book rang as so authentic to me.

VL: I have heard that you yourself are working on writing a novel, tell us about your experience. What have you learned about writing? About yourself as an artist?

GS: I am working on a book – a young adult novel set in the world of the theatre. Since that’s the world I know best, that seemed like a good place to start. I guess the main thing I’ve learned is that I really enjoy writing. I’ve been told my whole life that I had some ability as a writer, but I never really thought it was something that I enjoyed particularly. Theatre is such a collaborative art form. Writing always seemed to me to be such a solitary process, and that just never really appealed to me. But, I’m beginning to understand that isn’t really true.

VL: Ha! Yes, it may take one writer to draft a novel, but it takes a village to raise it.

You and your sister started your own creative arts center a few years ago, what can you tell us about that project

GS: I’ve always been a director and teacher, and my sister is a licensed teacher. She’s taught in schools in Oklahoma, Texas, and in Malta. So, when I was looking for a change, it just seemed kind of natural that we should combine those things into one joint creative venture. We offer theatre and other creative classes for students of all ages. Most of our work is done in after-school programs at local schools. It’s something we both enjoy and it gives us a lot of flexibility in the projects we work on, which is something that was important to both of us, since we are also raising children and pursuing other interests. It’s been a hard process getting it off the ground, but we’re finally making some good progress.

VL: You have an excellent program. I know my daughter enjoyed taking acting lessons from you. She learned more about her personal strengths and weaknesses as an actor – and how to improve – from you than her own drama teacher. I wish you well in that venture!

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us, Ginny. I look forward to your presentation at the retreat next month!

There are still a few spots available for our Fall Retreat. If you would like to hear Ginny speak, along with our other faculty members, sign up, today! This is an event you won’t want to miss!


Visit the scbwiok.org website for more details and to register online.

TweetAnd don’t miss the next Twitter Chat on September 22nd, from 7-8pm CST, when we chat with picture book author Janee Trasler. Use the hashtag #okscbwichat. Hope to see you there!

Jenny Adams Perinovic – Author Interview


I met Jenny Adams Perinovic, a fellow TGNA member, through Twitter when she was looking for unpublished writers to interview about their journey, thus far. That led to me auditioning for and joining the group blog, and now a few years and a some memorable Google hangouts later, I am happy to call her a friend. I am honored to have the privilege of interviewing her now that she is celebrating the release of her first book!

All of us at The Great Noveling Adventure are so thrilled for her and couldn’t be more excited.

First, a little bit about her novel:

The BookAMDB

A MAGIC DARK AND BRIGHT by Jenny Adams Perinovic

Release Date: April 28, 2015

Genres: YA, Gothic Romance

Order a Signed Paperback (US): One More Page Books
Order the eBook:  Kindle (US) ·  Kindle (UK) ·  Nook  · Kobo  · Itunes
Order a Paperback:  Amazon / B&N / The Book Depository / IndieBound

Plot Summary:

She meant to help a ghost…not unleash a curse.

Amelia Dupree hasn’t seen the Woman in White since the night her brother died.

The ghost seems to have disappeared from the woods surrounding Asylum, Pennsylvania—that is, until Charlie Blue moves into the creepy old MacAllister House next door. Amelia can’t help liking him, even though she spent her childhood thinking his grandmother was a witch. And she definitely can’t ignore the connection between his arrival and the Woman in White’s return.

Then Amelia learns that the Woman in White is a prisoner, trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead. Devastated by the idea that her brother could be suffering a similar fate, Amelia decides to do whatever it takes to help the Woman in White find peace–and Charlie agrees to help her.

But when Amelia’s classmates start to drown in the Susquehanna River, one right after another, rumors swirl as people begin to connect the timing of Charlie’s arrival with the unexplained deaths. As Charlie and Amelia uncover the dark history of Asylum, they realize they may have unleashed an unspeakable evil. One they have to stop before everything they love is destroyed.


Advance Praise: “A MAGIC DARK AND BRIGHT is a captivating mystery filled with magic and romance. It kept me enthralled until the heart-stopping finale.” — Lisa Maxwell, Author of  SWEET UNREST

Doesn’t that just give you chills? I love a delicious gothic mystery with some tortured romance on the side. This sounds like my kind of story. I’m so excited to get my hands on this book! Let’s hear more about how this story came into being.

JAP PicThe Interview

Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this project?

Jenny Adams Perinovic: Would you believe it started as a homework assignment? I completed a few courses towards my MA in Fiction at Johns Hopkins, and one of my first assignments was a short piece that told the story of a character from another character’s point of view. The first line came to me right away: Halfway through November, Charlie stopped coming to school. By the end of the assignment, I knew three things: the story was set in the mountains where I grew up, Charlie and Amelia had done a Bad Thing, and I could keep going in Amelia’s voice forever. SO MUCH has changed since then (including that first line!) but Charlie, Amelia, and Asylum have always been there.

VL: Thank goodness for that assignment. Who says all homework is bad, right?

I just love the title for this book, and that plot summary sounds amazing. I can’t wait to read it! What more can you tell us about this story?

JAP: Thank you so much! A MAGIC DARK AND BRIGHT is the story of a girl dealing with extreme loss–her brother, Mark, passed away shortly before the story starts and she blames herself for his death. They both knew that the woods behind their house were haunted by a mysterious woman in white, but after Mark’s death, the ghost stops appearing. Amelia becomes obsessed with watching the woods, and after several weeks, the ghost reappears, just as a pretty cute boy moves in next door. Amelia befriends Charlie, even though his grandmother is one of the most notorious citizens of their town. Things get complicated when the townspeople start to blame Charlie for a string of mysterious drownings, because everyone knows his family is Cursed with a capital C. I won’t get into TOO much more detail, but this is also a story about friendship and grief. And there’s magic. And kissing.

VL: People do crazy things when dealing with loss. Even before you throw in magic and cursed boys and kissing.

You took on the daunting process of self-publishing for the book. Tell us about that decision and why it was right for you, for this project. Did you have that goal in mind when you started out or did this evolve throughout your writing process?

JAP: It definitely evolved. When I started writing AMD&B in 2012, I didn’t know much about self-publishing, but as the years went on, it went from being a last resort to a really attractive option. I queried for a few months, but after doing a LOT of research and asking a ton of questions, I decided to pull it from consideration and dive into indie publishing.

VL: What surprised you the most about the process of putting a book out into the world yourself?

JAP: The support! I had expected a little bit of…not backlash, exactly, but maybe a little bit of snobbery about my decision? Self-publishing definitely has a stigma attached to it, because there are a lot of people out there who don’t treat it professionally. But everyone–from writer friends to family to my local community–has been so supportive and excited for me. It’s really amazing.

VL: That is so fantastic. Nothing feels better than the support of your loved ones and peers! It doesn’t hurt that you have painstakingly worked through each step of the publishing process to put out a quality book. I mean, that cover! So gorgeous!

Thinking back to your childhood, what heroes or role models did you look up to? What drew you to them?

JAP: Oh, this is a GOOD question. My first hero ever was Nancy Drew. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say, “Nancy Drew.” Now, clearly, I’m not a girl detective, but I think Nancy would approve of my career path. ;) I was drawn to her smarts, her drive, and her strong relationships with Bess, George, and Ned.

VL: Oh, yes! I loved Nancy Drew.

Who was your childhood best friend? Are you still friends today?

JAP: I actually have three best friends from elementary school who, at this point, are more like sisters than friends. One of them is Sarah Kettles, another TGNA blogger and the most talented writer I know. I can’t imagine life without them!

VL: How wonderful! My closest friend is from my childhood, too. There’s nothing like someone who’s known you all your life (and sticks by your side anyway).

What was the worst job you ever had while going to school?

JAP: Oh, hands down was when I worked as a student web developer in college. I spent 20 hours a week turning syllabi into web pages, which wasn’t terrible, but I was also working 15 hours in the library and taking a full course load. And then I caught mono and BAM. I was done for. When I asked if I could reduce my hours to 10 a week, my boss told me I should drop a class or two, because “there’s no shame in graduating late.” I quit on the spot.

VL: How dreadful! What a thing to tell a student.

What are you currently working on?

JAP: Three things: the sequel to AMD&B, which is taking precedence; my circus book, which is pretty much the book of my heart; and the new adult mystery I started during NaNoWriMo.  

VL: Oh, a circus book! That sounds interesting. Of course, after I start this book, I’ll want you to finish the sequel AMD&B book first. No pressure.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

JAP: I was most excited about ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER by Stephanie Perkins–I loved ANNA and LOLA and ISLA didn’t disappoint. I was also really looking forward to the latest OUTLANDER book, because Jamie Fraser.

On book I absolutely loved was called LOVE IN A TIME OF MONSTERS by Teresa Yea. I stumbled upon the cover on Pinterest and just KNEW I had read it. It was SO wonderful and clever and imaginative, and I couldn’t put it down.

VL: I really want to read that series from Stephanie Perkins. And so many other good recommendations there. Although, Outlander seems to come with an increase in my cable TV commitment, as well. Although from what all my writer friends say, totally worth it.

What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?

JAP: I’m dying to write a cheerleading book. Cheerleading was such a huge part of my life in high school, and I think a mystery set in the world of competitive cheer would be SO MUCH FUN. Like Veronica Mars meets Bring it On.

VL: That is an excellent comp title. I’m sure you would have a ton of interest in that story.

Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your beautiful new book with us, Jenny! I am thrilled for you, and wish your book a happy release day!

As a special treat to whet your appetites further for this book, here is an excerpt from A MAGIC DARK & BRIGHT:

Narrow stairs twisted up into the darkness. Charlie reached down and touched my wrist, urging me forward. My heart beat a frantic tattoo against my ribs; I wasn’t sure whether it was from his touch or nerves from the thought of heading up into the darkness.

I had the flashlight, so I went first. The stairs groaned under my weight, and I climbed slowly, focusing the yellow beam of light on the steps ahead of me until we reached the top and had nowhere else to go.

The rain was louder up here, pounding on the roof like an entire troop of tap-dancers. I swung the flashlight around, trying to get my bearings. The light danced over white-draped furniture, old-fashioned steamer trunks, and piles and piles of newspapers tied into neat bundles. The small rectangle of floor closest to the stairs was completely clear already. Lightning flashed, throwing the attic into such a bright light that I had to blink, and…

My breath caught in my throat. It couldn’t be. She never left the woods.

“What is it?” Charlie was right behind me.

I stepped closer, not trusting myself to speak. This time, with the flashlight focused solely on it, the silhouette of a dress form took shape, and I let out a shaky laugh, right as the thunder rolled overhead. “A dummy,” I said. “Just a dress dummy.”

“Did you think…?” He let the question trail off, and I shrugged. “Can you believe all of this stuff?” he asked.

I handed the flashlight back to him and lifted the corner of the sheet-covered lump next to me. An old rose-colored tufted sofa was underneath, a large rip in one of the cushions. “This all looks like…”

“Junk,” Charlie finished. “It’s all a bunch of junk.”

I plucked a large feathered hat from one of the piles closest to me and set it on my head. I posed in the dim light, fluttering my eyelashes at him. “Junk?” I pretended to be outraged, throwing one hand to my chest. “Why, Mr. Blue, how dare you? This here is one of the finest hats to ever grace this blessed Earth.”

He laughed. “I take it back,” he said. “That is a lovely hat.”

I stuck my tongue out at him, and he grinned. Feeling brave, I decided to venture deeper into the attic to see what else I could find. I’d only gone a few steps when I stepped on something that was definitely not floor. I gave a shriek as my feet went out from under me.

I threw out my arms, grabbing at the stack of boxes beside me, trying to keep my balance. That did nothing. In fact, I hit the ground in a heap, the boxes sliding down on top of me in a pile of dust and tiny plastic pieces.

Charlie was beside me in an instant. “Are you okay?”

“I think so,” I said, struggling to sit up. “Just clumsy.”

The boxes were all long and thin. Board game boxes. Some had opened in the fall; a cascade of faded Monopoly money and a few lonely pieces of Clue spilled across the floor. I pushed the boxes off me and stacked them neatly to one side.

Charlie leaned down to help me, tucking the flashlight under his arm. He picked up the pieces of the games on the floor and set them into the right boxes. “Look at these,” he said. “They’re ancient.”

I picked up a plain black box, almost the size and shape of the others, that hadn’t opened during the fall. I shook it gently. Something light rattled around. “I wonder what’s in here.”

He shone the flashlight on the box as I lifted the lid and set it aside. Nestled inside was a board covered in letters and a white triangle about the size of my palm. I picked the triangle up, running my fingers over the smooth, cool wood.

“Is that an Ouija board?” Charlie asked. He dropped to the floor beside me, sending up a cloud of dust. His long legs sprawled out, brushing against mine.

“I think so,” I answered. I pulled the board out and set it on the floor between us. “Leah and I tried this once.” It was one of my only clear memories of the days following Mark’s funeral: sitting in his bedroom, surrounded by his things, trying so hard to get him to speak to us. To me. “We couldn’t get it to work.” I turned the planchette over in my hands.

He locked his eyes with mine. His smile was slow and sweet, and it made my heart flip in my chest. “We could give it a try.”

“Now?” I couldn’t help the shiver that marched down my spine. Outside, the storm raged.

“What are you afraid of?” Charlie set the flashlight in his lap and reached over and plucked the planchette from my grip. He set it on the board, then looked up at me, his eyes dancing in the dim light.

Everything, I wanted to say. Instead, I scooted closer to him so my thigh pressed against his. “Fine,” I said, but I hesitated before putting my hand next to his on the planchette. Would I be able to handle it when it didn’t work?

Would I be able to handle it if it did?

Jenny is also giving away a SIGNED copy of her book and other swag on her website! Stop by to enter or clink on the link below!

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Jenny’s Rafflecopter giveaway


Learn more about Jenny Adams Perinovic here.

Follow Jenny on Twitter here.

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