Archives: Inspiration

What Triggers the Story Ideas?

https://storgy.com/2018/02/16/yellow-by-cathey-nickell/

I’ve only written one short story, and a London-based online site called STORGY Magazine recently published it. Here’s  a link to “Yellow,” which was inspired by something my father said in passing one day. Dad was looking at a brochure for a company that offered time-shares on a yacht; he thought it looked fun and showed my mother. Practical Mom was NOT interested, and Dad’s short-lived boat-dream faded soon thereafter.

When I got home from visiting them, I couldn’t shake this idea that was forming about couples and how they reach decisions. Whose career comes first? How are financial decisions made? Does one person get their way more than the other? I sat down and wrote “Yellow.” It has nothing to do with my parents, but Dad’s yacht-brochure-peruse triggered in me a creative moment. A short story was born.

Another time I was driving my son, Will, to school in our SUV. I was joking about the many (18+ and counting!) bumper stickers I have on it; he began to tease me, saying, “No one cares about your bumper stickers, Mom.” I dropped Will off at school, and my brain was on fire the whole drive home. I went inside, ignored the pile of tasks I needed to tend to, and instead pecked out the first draft of what would eventually become my first children’s book: Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art CarI wrote a blog about it.

Where it all began!

I’m currently working on my second book—a middle grade story based on a unique experience that happened when I was in the third grade growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana. I’m not ready to share the exact premise yet, but the idea came from a real-life occurrence. For now, I’ll refer to it by a code name—The Bee Book—that perhaps will make sense … someday! The initial idea to write about my childhood mishap came to me in 1989. I had been out of college for four years and was working as a Publications Director for a medical clinic/surgery center. Before work one morning, I read an article about actress Ally Sheedy. I learned that while at New York’s Bank Street School, 12-year-old Ally wrote about a mythical encounter between Queen Elizabeth I and an inquisitive mouse. The result, She Was Nice to Mice, was published in 1975 by McGraw-Hill and became a bestseller.

Children’s book author, Tara Lazar, posted a photo of “nice mice” on Instagram, and I commented.

I was 26 years old when I read about Ally. I remember thinking, Wow! Ally Sheedy was born in 1962, so she is only one year older than me. And she has already written a published book. If she was able to do that at the age of 12, then why can’t I do the same thing now? [As you’ll see in the screenshots, I’m not the only person who felt this way. Tara Lazar has a very similar memory!]

Tara’s response made me laugh! We think alike.

I also liked the rhyming style of Ally’s book title, and the name for my future book popped into my mind. I knew what I wanted to write and what it would be called. I arrived at the clinic, did my regular work, and patiently waited for my lunch break. During that one-hour time slot, instead of eating, I typed out five single-spaced pages on green copier paper I had swiped from the office supply closet. This was before computers were commonplace, so I used one of the office’s IBM Selectric typewriters. I later transferred it to a word processor, and I still have the 3.5-inch floppy disk! Those original five green pages became the first draft of The Bee Book (remember, that’s merely a code name, not my real working title). It wasn’t even a middle grade chapter book at the time. It was simply a clever turn of phrase, a few funny references … but an original story for children, nonetheless. I filed it away. And there it sat for about twenty-five more years!

Fast forward to 2015. I was working on Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, and my creative juices were awakened during that project. I was frequently thinking of new story ideas, jotting them down in a notebook. That’s when I remembered The Bee Book, which was still tucked away in a file cabinet. I hadn’t seen it since 1989, and when I pulled out those old green sheets, I laughed at how truly bad it was! My writing has improved over the years, I thought with relief. As terrible as it was, I realized that I held in my hands a craptastic outline of what might possibly become my first middle grade children’s book.

Using that outline, I spent about three months writing the 23,000-word document of The Bee Book. I took my Mac Air everywhere and wrote every chance I could: early mornings before my family woke up; in the SUV (the one with the 18+ bumper stickers!) while sitting in the after-school carpool line; at Starbucks when I was able to sneak away from my other responsibilities; in a comfy living room chair while my kids sat next to me watching a movie; anywhere, anytime. Sometimes my husband would hear me laughing and would ask why, and I’d answer, “Because this story I’m writing is really funny!”

A must-read for writers!

Last weekend, I spent a Saturday afternoon reading Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way To Success, by K.M. Weiland. It’s a great book, and I highlighted something every few pages. One of my favorite passages was in Chapter One, where she discusses how both sides of our brain divvy up the necessary responsibilities of creating a story. Conception—that first spark of a story idea—is a deeply right-brain activity, Weiland writes. Then, “outlining is where the left brain gets its first crack at the story,” she continues. “Writing the story is an intensely right-brain experience … Revising brings the process full circle by once again imposing left-brain rationality onto the creativity of the first draft.”

My 8-year-old niece Meghan also critiqued my middle grade story.

I’ve revised The Bee Book many times, and I think I’m on Draft #5 or so! I’ve had it critiqued by fellow writers, and it has gone through several beta readers and a proofreader. I hope to start querying agents soon, but I don’t know if The Bee Book will catch anyone’s interest. I think if it’s ever published, I’ll repay my former boss by giving him five pieces of green paper like the ones I stole from his office in 1989. I owe him that much, right? But since I was working at my father’s medical clinic at the time, I don’t think Dad will mind. 😉

—Be amazing.

Be an Inspiroror!

Have you ever been an inspiroror? Are you unsure what one is? Well, my almost-nine-year-old niece Marie seems to know. We share the exact same February birthday along with an affinity for writing stories. A few months ago, when Marie’s mom attended Back-to-School Night, she spotted this and texted it to me:

“My aunt Cathy is the writer of: the art car. She is an inspiroror. I love love her, and her writeing.” — Marie.

Come on!  It would be hard to feel rejected after that kind of praise. Marie loves me; she was spot-on drawing my poofy brown hair and art car t-shirt. And after seeing this mini-article she wrote, I was motivated to write my own blog post (this one!) after a long dry spell.

Inspiroror-ation comes from unexpected places. I’ve never drawn a comic strip, but in October, I was motivated by the morning news of all things. I watched Chris Cuomo and Carol Costello on CNN as they reported on several random stories. My brain strung them all together, and I drew a cartoon to illustrate what the news felt like that day.

I’m not going to post my lame drawing, because I prefer to avoid politics. Plus, it’s just really embarrassingly bad! At the time, I thought it was the CNN anchors that inspired me, but I now believe it was one of my writer friends, Lisa Sinicki. Lisa is a public relations professional in Atlanta, and author of My Mother Served Gouda When Company Came: Scenes from a cheese-lover’s life. You can find it on Amazon.

We became friends through an online Mastermind facilitated by Dan Blank, founder of WE GROW MEDIA. Lisa and I, along with a few others from that Mastermind group, have kept in touch and continue to support each other. Lisa draws playful cartoons, which she regularly posts in her newsletter. I recommend you buy Lisa’s cheese book (it’s gouda!) on Amazon and that you subscribe to her newsletter: Queen of the Chronic Overthinkers.

One of Lisa’s recent comics called “A Visit From the Idea Fairy” had my husband and I cracking up. I wrote to tell her the good news: “Lisa, it made us spit soda out of our noses! Someone needs to buy them!” She replied that she submitted some of her cartoons to The New Yorker: “I sent a couple of early one-panel things that got rejected. I recently sent in five better ones. I imagine that IF I keep submitting eventually something will stick.” I admire Lisa’s positivity, because I’m sure she’s much like me and other creative professionals who struggle to stay confident in the face of rejection.

For me, I think it was a large dose of false confidence that propelled me into action on my CNN/Lisa-Sinicki-inspired comic-strip-drawing day. I finished my masterpiece, and I should have quietly filed it away; instead, I sent it to The New Yorker. Wait, what? Yeah, I did. I guess I wanted to be like my inspiroror—Lisa! Then, I waited. And waited. And then, I got rejected!

Are you familiar with a site called SUBMITTABLE? It’s an app where writers and artists can submit their works for possible publication. Check it out and you’ll find yourself going down a literary rabbit hole. Before I could mutter “submittable,” The New Yorker rejected my first-ever political cartoon. Undeterred, I submitted a few writing samples to other publications. As a result, an online site called Parent Co. accepted my personal essay called “If These Scars Could Talk.” It was published on Nov. 4, 2017 as a part of their November writer’s contest based on the word prompt: gratitude. YOU CAN READ IT HERE!

ME:  I’m on a roll!

That thinking led me to submit some more. I’ve had a short story called “Yellow” sitting in my computer for about a year. I sent it out to a few publications, and an online literary magazine called STORGY accepted it (to be published on Feb. 16). In both instances, I chose to adopt Lisa Sinicki’s mantra: “If I keep submitting, eventually something will stick.” (This should be a meme for creative professionals).

“Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car” is my first children’s book.

My first—and last!!—political cartoon wasn’t published in The New Yorker, and I don’t know what sort of response I’ll get for my short-story “Yellow” once it appears on STORGY. But some positive wins have happened since I launched my children’s book last year. Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car was awarded first place by the Texas Association of Authors in the category of Children’s Picture Book—All Ages for 2017. I’ve also spoken/presented at more than 35 elementary schools since launching my book. And the biggest win happens at that sweet moment when a student tells me, “You inspired me! I can’t wait to get home and write my own book.”

So, who is your inspiroror? Are you inspiroror-ing anyone? And as always, Be Amazing!

Happy birthday to us!

Keeping It Rolling!

I feel the same sort of awe whenever I see Randy Blair’s art car called “A Little Bit of Nonsense.”

This week, students at three elementary schools will hear all about art cars, writing, publishing, illustrating, creativity and inspiration when I show up to present my children’s book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. The lucky schools are Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet, Travis Elementary School, and St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. And the timing could not be better since Houston’s 30th Art Car Parade  will roll at 2:00 pm Saturday, April 8, downtown along Smith St.

I’ve been presenting my book to various schools in Houston and beyond since last year’s launch. Just this year alone, I’ll have been to about 20 schools by the end of May! WOW! You can check out my calendar here.  I speak to students about how I got the idea for my book (hint: my car sports 16 bumper stickers and counting), how they can come up with their own amazing story ideas, the writing and publishing process, and, of course ART CARS! I also reveal a few “insider secrets” about the making of my book. My illustrator, Bill Megenhardt, often accompanies me on these school visits. And there is always a real art car for the students to see up close!

The student artwork from Atlanta’s Fernbank Elementary was AMAZING!

The best part is getting thank-you letters from the students. One fantastic school—Fernbank Elementary in Atlanta, Georgia—presented me with a huge binder full of their own art car illustrations! It’s also fun to see how creative the schools get in honor of my visit. They build their own miniature art cars, hang art car banners down their hallways, paint wooden cut-out art car signs, and more. Sometimes I can’t believe my little ole’ book encouraged some of these ideas!

A lot of folks ask me how I wrote and published my book. In case you don’t know, I’ll explain how it all started back in 2015. I moved to Houston about twenty years ago, and I had never seen an art car until I landed in this awesome city. These rolling wonders fascinated me, and over the years I took photographs whenever I spotted one “in the wild.” So, I don’t drive an art car myself, but the concept for Arthur Zarr came to me one morning during rush hour while I was driving my teenage son, Will, to school.

A creative parent made this painted wood car in honor of my visit to Southfield School in Shreveport, Louisiana.

I keep the back of my SUV covered with various bumper stickers. I joked with my son, Will, that I need to be a polite driver and obey the laws of the road because my car is so incredibly recognizable. He laughed at me, insisting that no one ever notices me and certainly not my car. “You’re the only person who thinks your car is cool, Mom,” he teased. Throughout that drive, Will’s comment got me pondering what else—besides bumper stickers—might make a car memorable? That question triggered me to think about art cars, and by the time I finished my morning carpool, the initial concept for Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car was born. (Here’s another post about those inspirational bumper stickers!)

I’ve highlighted, notated and dog-eared this book through at least three full readings!

Simply put, I had a playful idea, and I acted on it. Immediately. That very day. I didn’t wait to finish the laundry or to load the dishwasher for the millionth time. I decided to say “yes” to my idea. Most of us have moments of inspiration, but we’re often too tired or too busy to do anything about it. Right? Best-selling author ELIZABETH GILBERT talks about this in her book, Big Magic She writes, “Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.” She goes on to say that she believes “ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners.” I believe that I was an agreeable human that day during my morning carpool.

It’s been a life-changing experience, and I enjoy sharing my message about inspiration and creativity with elementary students. I tell them about my book, which is set in an imaginary town, where Arthur Zarr is a quiet man who lives alone. When he gets a creative idea to add everyday objects to his car’s plain exterior, the people in his community start noticing Arthur for the first time. Neighbors and other bystanders join him by adding their own artistic flair to the car. Soon, Arthur becomes a contender in the town’s Art Car Parade. His life becomes more colorful as the book progresses, and he makes friends along the way. (Hey! That’s kind of like me!)

Themes include recycling, outsider art, friendship building, community pride, and the power of imagination. There’s an ABC motif that runs throughout the book—Arthur adds objects to the car alphabetically. At the end of the book, I included a page that gives readers the “History of Art Cars.” Teachers and librarians appreciate that I added this non-fiction summary, as it helps them tie the story into their curriculum and possible assignments. I explain more about school visits here.

The final result: Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, a hardcover book with dust jacket, published by my very own company, Twenty-Eight Creative (ISBN: 978-0-9961150-0-1; $19.99). It is available for purchase directly from me (there’s a PAYPAL LINK on this website under the BOOKS tab) or at various retail outlets and online through Amazon. Houston shops that carry the book include: Brazos Bookstore, Bering’s Hardware (Westheimer location), and The Beer Can House.

I love my thank you letters! Keep it rolling!

If you have an idea that you think has some legs to it, please grab hold and don’t let go! The creative process is a fun—and sometimes exhausting—pursuit. But it’s one that I don’t regret following. Liz Gilbert believes “we are all capable at times of brushing up against a sense of mystery and inspiration in our lives … You can’t explain it. But it felt as if you were being guided.” That’s what I experienced when I was creating Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. So, I’ll tell you the same thing I tell the students when I speak at schools: Be like Arthur Zarr … Be amazing! The laundry and dishes can wait.

10,000 Smiles Per Gallon

It was my first book signing for my children’s book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. I was terrified. Which was kind of silly, because all I had to do was set up a table at an elementary school holiday market. Nevertheless, I felt nervous and unsure. So, I did what any mature author would do … I begged my mother to be my sidekick!

Cathey & Randy at the Wilchester Elementary Arts Market.

Cathey & Randy at the Wilchester Elementary Arts Market.

As Mom and I parked in the school’s unloading area, I was surprised to see an artcar in the lot. It was covered with every glass object, trinket and phrase you can imagine, and I’ve since learned that it’s called “A Little Bit of Nonsense.” Mom helped me lug my case of books inside, and the first person we met was a 6-foot-4 bald man wearing tie-dyed clothes and antlers on his hat!

“I’m Randy Blair,” he said, walking over for a handshake. “I have a very hot wife, wanna see?” He opened up his wallet to show off a photograph, and a huge orange flame snapped out. Ha! That’s how I discovered that—in addition to decorating and driving one of the most spectacular artcars I’ve ever seen—Randy also does magic tricks. And he makes and sells jewelry. And he’s a chef. And he runs his own private catering business, “Five Loaves and Two Fish Catering.” And he’s a father to five kids, a husband to Wanda, a cancer survivor.

Randy Blair is a big tall bundle of interesting! But that day, he was the person who made me feel comfortable about selling my new artcar book. He was my first buyer that morning, too. He bought a copy and stepped back over to his own sales booth to read it alone. I had no idea what he thought of it, and his opinion mattered to me. Not only was he a REAL artcar driver, but also he was the FIRST “cartist” I’d ever met in person.

After awhile, Randy came back over. “You know what? You wrote my life story! I’m just like Arthur Zarr!” He went on to explain that (like my Arthur) he never intended to build an artcar, but it accidentally evolved over time. For some 20 years, Randy was a chef in corporate America, forced to wear a required, conservative, plain uniform. In 2001, he started his own catering business, which allowed him a new level of freedom. “I’ve always been very creative and very visual, and it started seeping into other areas of my life,” Randy says.

Take his vehicle, for instance. Randy’s first artcar was an old green Honda CRV. He decorated the interior dashboard and let people sign the roof of the car with markers. Soon after, he bought a pair of crazy tie-dyed chef pants that he wore with his white jacket. Over time, Randy’s plain chef’s coat was replaced with a colorful one dyed by Don Bingham, owner of Tribal Grounds in Houston. “First my car started changing, then my clothes started changing,” Randy laughs.

The amazing “A Little Bit of Nonsense.”

When the aging Honda’s engine finally died, Randy bought a brand-new candy-apple red Toyota Yaris. (I’ve always thought that artists had to buy an old jalopy as a base to build an artcar. Wrong!) Immediately after buying the Yaris, Randy started decorating the interior, and—like my book’s character, Arthur Zarr—he began to get noticed. “People would tell me, ‘Your car is so cool on the inside!’” Friends recommended he enter it in the Art Car Parade; so, he showed photos of it to some folks at The Orange Show—the group that hosts Houston’s Art Car Parade each year—and the rest is history.

Like Arthur Zarr, Randy knew his car needed more oomph to be ready for the parade. He bought a kiln and started making “fused dichroic glass” as a hobby. These colorful, shiny objects made their way to the outside of his Yaris. By the time he drove it in the 2009 Art Car Parade, the exterior was completely covered with objects. That first year, Randy won first place for daily driver and first place for participant’s choice. The following year, he won both categories again. And just like my Arthur (and me!), Randy made a whole bunch of new friends along the way.

Randy’s “A Little Bit of Nonsense” artcar now has multiple layers and significant height to it. He drives it daily because he loves making people happy. He says viewers often ask him if the weighty objects affect the mileage he gets per gallon of gas. He answers, “It doesn’t matter how much weight I’m adding, because I’m getting 10,000 smiles per gallon!” Those smiles are addictive, he tells me, and it’s why he keeps driving his artcar.

Just one of Randy's many artcar quotes!

Just one of Randy’s many artcar quotes!

I agree with a phrase that’s printed on Randy’s car that says, “The sweetest fruit is at the end of the skinniest branch.” I had to get out of my comfort zone to reach my fruit. To write and publish my children’s book. To put myself out there. To risk rejection. When I speak to students at elementary schools, when I sign books for children, or when I see someone smile at my book cover—I know it was worth climbing out on that bendy limb.

 

Be Amazing.

Note to my favorite book reviewer, Paul McRae: Yes, I spelled artcar as one word. For you. 🙂

If These Scars Could Talk

I remember a story I overheard or saw on television as a child when I was about ten years old. It was the 1970s, before lasers were available to remove tattoos. The story I heard was about a woman who wanted a heart-shaped tattoo removed from her derrière. Apparently the doctor incised the heart tattoo and stitched up the wound. The scar that the excision left was in the shape of a capital letter Y. I remember thinking to myself, “She better marry someone whose name starts with a Y, otherwise her husband might get jealous!” Something about that heart-turned-into-a-Y-shaped-scar always intrigued me. That woman had a story to tell!

In the third grade, a broken femur set me on the path to scardom!

At age nine, I earned my own first noticeable scars when I broke my femur. My parents bought a small Suzuki motorcycle, and they’d take us kids out for rides on a piece of country property that our family owned. I was too young to ride the motorcycle alone, so I climbed on the back and hung on behind one of my father’s friends. It was an accident; Emile certainly didn’t want me to get hurt. But, a piece of barbed wire was dangling in our path, and it snared the wheel, yanking the bike onto my leg. I still remember the pain and the long drive to the hospital. The orthopedic surgeon inserted a metal pin through my leg to set me up for traction. After six weeks in the hospital, six weeks at home in a body cast, and several weeks on crutches, my femur finally healed. Over 40 years later, I still think about that accident whenever I see the small scars on either side of my right leg where the pin was.

SCARS = EXPERIENCES:

Most of us don’t like scars. Right? If you Google the word “scar,” numerous plastic surgery and dermatology websites for scar removal pop up. Apparently there’s a lot of money to be made in getting rid of our scars. Everyone wants beautiful, flawless skin that’s free of freckles, moles and wrinkles. But, if you think about it, scars equate to experiences. Every scar has a story. Without my stories—and my scars—who would I be? The memory of spending much of third grade in traction has stayed with me all these years. I remember feeling trapped in the body cast (i.e., itches I couldn’t scratch, places I couldn’t go, embarrassing moments I couldn’t escape). I remember being afraid to have the cast removed, because it kept me safely cocooned for so long. Later, my broken femur story inspired a college English essay, and the professor cited it to the class as “an example of an A+ paper.” My broken leg also led me to draft a children’s chapter book based on the experience (yet to be published).

I acquired other scars over the years, too. There’s a small one on my knee from a cut I received in a high school car accident. I think of my friend Linda when I see that scar, because she was in the car with me. The car was totaled, but Linda and I were okay. In adulthood, two cesarean section deliveries left a thin zipper across my lower abdomen. My sons are the result of those childbirth experiences, and the scars remind me of bringing Mason (25) and Will (16) into the world. There’s also the one on my back where I had a benign skin cancer removed. The basal cell carcinoma was likely the result of childhood sunburns, and that scar brings back memories of a particularly hot family beach trip to Corpus Christie, Texas one summer.

EXPERIENCES = GROWTH:

Despite rupturing my Achilles tendon, I found a way to attend my recent book launch events for "Arthur Zarr's Amazing Art Car."

Despite rupturing my Achilles tendon, I found a way to attend my recent book launch events for “Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car.”

My most recent scar is fresh! Still healing. It runs up the back of my ankle, due to having a ruptured Achilles tendon surgically repaired two weeks ago. I was on a snow skiing vacation in Telluride, Colorado for Spring Break. I guess I was skiing to the right while a young man turned too fast to the left. Our skis crossed, and I flew out of control into some trees. It was a frightening experience, and I immediately felt intense heat throughout my ankle. I thought it was another broken leg bone, but I was wrong. It turned out to be a 6.5-centimeter tear in my Achilles tendon requiring immediate surgery.

This latest injury has left me dependent on family and friends. I cannot do much for myself, and it’s important to keep the foot elevated to prevent swelling. Since it’s my right foot, I can’t drive a car for a few months. I’m fortunate to have a husband, sons, parents, sisters, and friends who don’t mind taking care of me. I dislike being dependent on them, but I’m learning that the Beatles were right when they sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.

My scars aren’t so bad. They tell a story. They’re a literal skin road map of life that allows me to retrace my varied experiences. They reveal a sense of adventure. The scars also point out that I might be a bit clumsy! I don’t know yet what my new ankle scar looks like, but I’ll find out in a few days when the doctor unwraps the soft cast. I’ll laugh if it’s shaped like a capital letter Y.

Tell me about your scars!

 

Hey, NYC! I’m Back In Black!

I wore a loose-fitting, hot pink shorts set with white tennis shoes. It was May of 1999, and it was my first trip to New York City. Oh, and I was six months pregnant! If you know anything about NYC, it’s that the locals tend to wear a lot of black. Sure, they might experiment with color a bit during Fashion Week. But fuchsia maternity shorts with a coordinating top? Unlikely. Regardless, I thought my matchy-match pink outfit from A Pea in the Pod seemed appropriate for a scorching hot day touring the Big Apple.

macaulay

Pretty much me in New York in 1999.

I had that pregnancy glow. As I walked down Lexington Avenue, a passerby looked me straight in the eye. He pointed a finger at me and loudly said, “Hey Cutie… ” For a split second, I puffed up from the compliment and flashed a smile, about to respond with a polite Texan “hello.” No time for me to reply, however, as he instantly finished his sentence with “ …Roly Poly!” True story. He was thigh-slapping and laughing as he continued on, still muttering, “roly poly.” I stood there open-mouthed, gasping like Macaulay Culkin in the movie Home Alone.

“HEY CUTIE… ROLY POLY!”  —Mr. Manhattan

That’s how I first learned I don’t always fit in. That guy? He fit in. He was in the inner circle of NYC. He knew stuff. He knew where he was going and what to wear (black!). To be sure, I probably looked like a ridiculous pink balloon. But did Mr. Manhattan have to point it out? Did he have to remind me that I didn’t belong?

Sixteen years after that wardrobe malfunction, I found myself on a flight heading back to New York. Once again, I was nervous about not fitting in. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) was hosting its Winter Conference, and I didn’t want to miss the workshops and faculty lineup. One draw was the keynote speaker: Oscar-winner/writer/illustrator/creator and fellow Shreveporter, William Joyce. Also, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Rainbow Rowell, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Gary D. Schmidt. I was nervous about going alone, but most of my friends are uninterested in an assemblage of over 1,500 writers who want to talk about books. My husband, Kevin, who is always game for a trip to New York, offered to accompany me; but I knew I’d be booked in meetings all day. So, I went alone.

On the plane, I thought about my fear of not fitting in with the other writers I’d be meeting in New York—many of whom had agents and/or contracts with Big Six publishing houses. Doesn’t everyone feel like this now and then? I remembered my mother’s reassurances when I was a teenager: “Cathey, when you find yourself nervous about tackling a new experience, just remember that everyone else in the room feels the exact same way. Once you understand that, your fears will dissolve.” I decided I would walk into every conference situation with that thought in mind: I’m not the only one here who is nervous and full of self-doubt.

IMG_5977

Fitting in better in black, February of 2016.

Fortunately, our SCBWI Houston regional chapter helped us out by putting the local attendees in touch with one another in advance. There were about ten of us going from Houston, and we created a group text so that we could meet up once we arrived at the Grand Central Station hotel. I don’t suffer from a diagnosable social phobia, but I really hate going to an event and not seeing a single familiar face. Thanks to that group text, however, I had an immediate circle of friends with whom I could sit, dine, compare notes, and hang out. From the minute I arrived, a tribe of creative, like-minded colleagues surrounded me.

The February 2016 SCBWI Conference in New York was inspirational, and I’m glad I didn’t cancel my registration. I took notes, developed ideas, made friends, networked, exchanged contact information, got autographs from a few famous authors, and learned about the publishing industry. I felt okay. I fit in. And this time, I wore black.

 

 

 

The Beer Can House is Selling My Book … How Apropos!

I have a long-standing relationship with beer. Okay, that didn’t come out right. I mean, I enjoy an occasional beer, but that’s not the point. The point is that autographed copies of my new book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, are available for purchase at the Beer Can House in Houston, Texas. If you don’t know about this delightful and iconic Houston site, you’re in for a treat. First, though, let’s get back to my relationship with beer.

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Margy Stamps, 1915-1994.

Margy Mae Stephenson Stamps was my darling grandmother, and her eight grandchildren called her “Ma.” Born July 25, 1915, I remember how Ma liked to brag about her Leo zodiac sign. And the Leo description fit her to a tee: “Charismatic and positive-thinking, they attract not only an abundance of friends and opportunities, but manage to survive life’s stormy times with style and good humor.” Ma had a playfulness about her, despite having experienced her share of hardship. She told us stories of going through the Great Depression, and of taking care of her two younger brothers when her mother fell ill. I also knew she had tragically lost her husband—my grandfather, Dobie Stamps—when she was just 48 years old. But you wouldn’t have known it, because she remained witty, spirited, hard working, loyal, and loving until she passed away in 1994 when I was age 31.

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“Out of the mouths of babes!”

Ma liked her beer. Schlitz beer. My parents didn’t drink, and, growing up, we never had much, if any, alcohol in our home. So, as a child, it tantalized me that my petite, respectable grandmother drank a beer each day. How fantastically scandalous, I thought! Her affinity for a can of beer, coupled with her trendy style (think fashionable jeans instead of shapeless “grandmotherly” dresses), made her the coolest granny ever, in my eyes. In my youth, I wrote and illustrated hand-made books at a prolific rate. My heroine, Ma, was often the front-and-center theme of my childhood creations. This photograph is one of many silly examples in which I demonstrated Ma’s cool-factor in the form of literature and art (written by me at about age 8 or 9).

Ma would have been 100 this year, and I find it fitting that my children’s book is being sold at the Beer Can House gift shop. Does that sound like an odd location to sell a children’s book? Well, it’s not! The Beer Can House is a beloved Houston attraction that draws thousands of children and adults each year. John Milkovisch, a retired upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, started his project in 1968 when he began inlaying thousands of marbles, rocks, and metal pieces into concrete and redwood to form unique landscaping features. Next, Milkovisch began to add flattened aluminum beer cans to the sides of the house itself—a process that he perfected over the next 18-plus years. I’ve read that Ripley’s Believe It or Not! estimates that over 50,000 cans adorn this must-see monument to recycling.

Will, age 9.

Will, age 9, at Beer Can House.

In 2009, six years before I wrote or even thought of the idea for Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, I took my youngest son Will—who was then age 9—to visit the Beer Can House. I wanted him to learn about outsider art, and this was one of our many stops throughout Houston on what I dubbed our “art crawl.” I can’t remember if we saw any Schlitz cans nailed to the house, but it is reported that Milkovisch said his favorite beer was “whatever’s on special.” That sounds like something Ma would say, too. If she were still alive, I know she would get such a kick out of seeing my book on sale at the Beer Can House.

Are you still wondering why my picture book is being sold at the Beer Can House, of all places? Well, the restoration of this home is an ongoing project of the The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art—the same organization that hosts the annual ART CAR PARADE. So, that’s the connection! The Beer Can House is open most Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5 p.m. and is located at 222 Malone Street in Houston.

My Art Crawl, 2009.

My Art Crawl, 2009.

Admission is only five dollars, and kids 12 and under are free; and the fun memories of your visit are also free! While you’re at it, perhaps you’ll buy a copy of Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. Your purchase there will support the endeavors of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, which is a 501(c)3 publicly funded non-profit organization.

Note: Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car is also available for sale at The Orange Show’s main office, located at 2402 Munger, Houston, Texas. Check with them for hours of operation.

You can buy the book through other means as well, and I don’t mean to exclude all my other wonderful sales outlets. But today’s blog is dedicated to the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. And to beer. And to Ma. ♥

Am I a Legitimate Author?

“Can you help me get my book published?”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that question… it wouldn’t make me a millionaire, but I bet it would buy me a few tanks of gas. It’s funny, because a big-name publisher has not published my work. Nor a small publisher. Still though, it seems that some are noting my humble progress, and they’re asking how I’ve done it.

You’ve heard the well-known quote: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” Well, I’ve discovered that “getting my book published” and “getting on Amazon” takes a lot more than practice.

ISH-BOOKI have two books under my belt. The first—a historical nonfiction—was published in 2012, with a revision and second printing in 2015. Uniting Faith, Medicine and Healthcare: A 60-Year History of the Institute For Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center was the result of a freelance writing job. A Houston non-profit organization, called the Institute for Spirituality and Health, hired me to conduct interviews, research their annals, and develop a cohesive, historical chronicle of their years from 1955 to 2015.

The Institute project was unique because (1) I was well paid to write the book, and (2) the Institute funded all production costs to publish it. So, from a financial standpoint, I didn’t have to front the required capital. I didn’t take on any risk, other than my reputation as a writer. Since we chose to self-publish, I was able to skip the process of finding an agent, editor, or publishing house. I understood the publication process, thanks to my former years as a journalist and public relations professional.

ArthurZarr_My second book—a children’s picture book—has been an altogether different endeavor. In January of 2014, I came home from carpooling my son to school with a book idea. I sat down at my computer and created Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. I wrote the first draft in one sitting that took up most of my day. I felt it was an original story, and, after some research, I discovered that it would be the first children’s picture book on the topic of art cars. This led me to various appointments where I discussed my idea with smart, creative people. I considered self-publishing, and most everyone I talked to encouraged me to move forward with this idea.

The problem was that I wanted to feel legitimate. To me, that meant finding a “real publisher” or an agent. I couldn’t shake the notion that I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I self-published. Anyone can self-publish a book, was the nagging thought in my head. I discovered a small publisher that accepted non-agented work, and I mailed my manuscript off. I waited. And waited. After two months, I emailed the editor there, and she surprised me by writing back, saying that she was eager to read my story and would soon get back to me. I waited some more. And waited.

“PLAN B” IS SOMETIMES BETTER THAN “PLAN A”…

I never heard from that small publishing house. Looking back, I’m glad they didn’t respond. Undeterred, the months I spent waiting on that publisher’s call gave me time to develop a new plan. Ten months had passed since writing that first draft of Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. By this time, I had revised it dozens of times. I felt even more attached to my character and the dream of seeing Arthur come to life. I hired a local children’s book illustrator, and the real work began.

My constant narrative of “anyone can self-publish a book” wasn’t true. Producing my picture book has been a daily job that has required thousands of hours of proofreading, researching, learning, creating business/marketing plans, conducting cost comparisons, etc. I studied the basics of web design, blogging, social media, and building an author platform.

Self-publishing is hard work that’s not for the faint of heart or for the faint of wallet. In addition to the costs incurred in publishing a book, I’ve also taken courses, attended conferences, joined organizations, listened to webinars, and bought numerous industry books. Producing a hardcover picture book complete with dust jacket is an expensive endeavor with no promise of reimbursement through possible sales.

DARE TO SHARE…

But something special happened to me during the process of creating and producing Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. I grew in terms of creativity, productivity, and confidence. I’m not sure how, but I whittled out time to write a middle grade book that is currently in the rewrite phase (and that I might produce next). I revised the non-fiction book for the Institute for Spirituality and Health, and I produced its second printing. I completed my thesis and earned a master’s degree. I served as a paid consultant on a book project for another non-profit Houston organization. I helped a new acquaintance self-publish her book of poetry called Conscious Transformations: Within Me, Within You (by Marla Maharaj, for sale on Amazon). I assisted my parents as they sold their home and moved into a new house. I was a friend, a mother, a stepmother, a daughter, a sister, and a wife.

At first, I was afraid to put my writing, my books, and my ideas out into the world with no assurance of acceptance or appreciation. But as the inspiring author Brené Brown says, I think I’m “daring greatly!” I feel like a legitimate author. I can’t wait to open that first case of books in two weeks. Loveable Arthur is almost here!

Just Call Me “Hospital Girl”

I lived in a hospital from age 14 to 21.

Have you ever been to a party where they play that icebreaker game? Everyone has to say one fun fact about him or herself that you probably wouldn’t already know. Well, “I lived in a hospital from age 14 to 21” is my line. It’s a safe bet that I’m the only person in the room who can make that statement. It usually gets a laugh, until they find out I’m not joking.

GazeboIt’s a unique story, but probably not as weird as you are imagining. My family lived in Shreveport, Louisiana, and Dad was a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. My parents bought a large private hospital to set up his solo medical practice. They had a vision for a business that was revolutionary at the time—a freestanding day surgery center. It was the late 1970s, and there were no other such facilities in Shreveport, and only a few in the United States. The building they purchased was originally a 1920s English Tudor home belonging first to the Ratcliff family, and later to the Frank Hemenway, Jr. family. In 1960, Dr. Peachy Gilmer acquired the home, enlarged it, and converted it into a 35-bed hospital. Later, a group of doctors bought it, and it became known as Fairfield Hospital.

My parents established it as The Plastic Surgery Center. Mom was the administrator, and Dad was the surgeon. They made a great team, hired a staff, and set to work. Soon after buying the large 14,000-square-foot building, they realized that it had more space than the business required. So, they created a home for their family of five children in a designated part of the building. Meanwhile, the medical clinic and day surgery activities took place in the front half of the building.

Spending those years in “the hospital,” as we often referred to our home/center at 3000 Fairfield Avenue, created a childhood that can’t be replaced. Here are some of my best memories.

1 – We had full access to a commercial-size Coca-Cola machine. Remember when soda machines had glass bottles? Ours was that type. Sodas were only 25 cents. My siblings and I were in cokes-for-a-quarter heaven! Poor Mom did her best to set carbonate limits, but we learned to quietly sneak them out of the machine. That just added to the fun of it.

2 – Most homes have a driveway. Our hospital/home had an enormous parking lot. That meant plenty of room for all of our cars and those of our friends. It also provided generous space for us to paint banners before the weekend high school football games. My little brother, Patrick—who was only seven years old when we moved into the hospital—had a large expanse of concrete to drive his go-kart. The patients loved it when they saw the handmade sign that Patrick posted one morning: “Caution: Watch Out For Go-Kart Driver!”

3 – We had an elevator. It was the old-fashioned kind that required us to manually shut the heavy door. Next, we had to close an accordion-style metal gate by hand. There was a large lurch when we first hit the button for the floor we wanted. The hospital had three floors, which provided endless elevator entertainment for five kids. It was also fun to scare our friends by pretending we were stuck between floors.

4 – There was a real operating room upstairs. I only saw the inside of the O.R. a handful of times. It was a sterile area, and we weren’t allowed to enter. Dad has always had a great sense of humor, and he had fun keeping non-medical staff (and his children) out of that section of the center. With bright red duct tape, he created a thick, forbidding line. Above it was this phrase: “Thou Shalt Not Cross the Red Line!”

5 – After hours, we had access to several well-equipped business offices. Copier machines are an everyday occurrence in homes now, but in the 1970s, they were not common. We had a full-blown Xerox machine. We taught our friends to lean over the glass plate to print out hilarious faces. We also had a few IBM Selectric typewriters we could use anytime … and office supplies … and plenty of desks for homework time … and business telephones with buttons that enabled us to put our friends on hold!

6 – We had a historic gazebo in our back yard. It was the site for many bridal photos and wedding proposals. I mentioned before that Dad has a great sense of humor. Well, the gazebo was old and in need of repair, so my parents hired some renovation experts to bring it back to its original 1920s glory. The patients kept asking what was happening to the gazebo. To stop the questions, he installed a huge sign on our busy street corner that announced: “The Gazebo is having a facelift.” It made it into The Shreveport Times.

Our beloved Plastic Surgery Center has since been torn down and replaced with a large bank building. The gazebo was relocated a few miles away to the campus of Centenary College, which my parents and three siblings attended. But we still have our memories, and I wouldn’t change anything about those years growing up in a hospital. I think my brothers and sisters would agree. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

 

GAZEBO PHOTO BY: Langston McEachern (1918-2004), former photographer at The Shreveport Times.

 

 

Five Ways To Impress My Dog

I’m the seeing-eye person for my little blind dog. I tap my foot to indicate the spot where I’ve dropped Cricket’s treat. I gently tug her head up by the leash so she doesn’t bump her nose on the curb. I squeak her toy before the toss so she knows how to track it. I never rearrange our furniture.

Cricket wasn’t born blind, but juvenile cataracts took her eyesight at the young age of two. She’s eleven years old now, and, like most pet owners, we adore our fur-baby. As such, my husband and I spared no expense. Cataract surgery on both eyes; laser surgery to save one detaching retina; pricey drops to keep glaucoma under control. Cricket is high maintenance!

IMG_4632Perhaps you’ve heard the funny saying, “Be the person your dog thinks you are.” I have a ceramic dish that displays the quote, and it got me thinking. What kind of person does Cricket believe I am?

#1 – My dog thinks I’m a caretaker.  I provide for all of Cricket’s needs. I feed her, pet her, bathe her, walk her, and administer her medications. I make sure she doesn’t bump into things. I keep her safe. So, according to my ceramic dish, I need to BE this person, right? That means I should take care of myself. My husband, colleagues, friends and family will treat me the way I treat myself. I recently heard Elizabeth Gilbert, best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love, explain her thoughts on this topic. She says that after years of self-work, she finally blossomed into a person who could attract positive results. She learned how to treat herself so well that she finally recognized what it felt like to be treated well by others. I need to take care of myself as well as I take care of sweet Cricket.

#2 – My dog thinks I’m the alpha.  Cricket knows I’m the boss. She can’t help it. It’s instinctive. She hangs her head if she thinks I’m upset with her. She rolls onto her back to get my attention. She stays in place when I tell her not to move. If I’m going to BE this person, I need to be the alpha of my own life. If I don’t take charge, someone else will. As William Ernest Henley wrote in his poem, Invictus, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” Every day is a new opportunity to focus on my goals. I have to be my own alpha.

#3 – My dog thinks I’m active.  Twice a day, I lead Cricket on her walks. I toss toys to her. I brush her fur. I help her chase a soccer ball around the yard. To BE the person Cricket thinks I am, I need to stay active. I lost a smart, vibrant, beautiful college friend this year to cancer. I think if she were alive, she’d say, “Lethargy has no place in your life, Cathey. Go live!” I need to actively live until the day I die. Cricket cannot see the toys I toss, but she enjoys fetching them as if it were the most exciting event she has ever encountered. Just as Cricket adapted to her blindness with her frisky personality still intact, I, too, want to face each day’s challenges with active enthusiasm and energy.

#4 – My dog thinks I’m cuddly.  Cricket sleeps in the bed with my husband, Kevin, and me. She cuddles with us, especially during thunderstorms. I translate this to mean that I should be soft (cuddly!), not harsh. Karma means that there’s a law of attraction at play in my life. I want to be supportive and encouraging of the successes of my friends. I want to think positive thoughts; listen to my intuition; visualize how I want my life to be. That prickly old feeling of disappointment is the opposite of cuddly, so I strive to not wallow in discontent.

 #5 – My dog thinks I’m part of the pack.  Cricket does a pretty typical dog thing, or maybe it stems from her breed (Havanese!). No matter who walks in our door, she barks—even if she knows the person quite well. When our son, Will, comes home from school, Cricket barks. When Kevin gets home from work, she barks. When our older college kids visit, she barks. I guess she’s warning me that our other pack members have arrived. But, interestingly, whenever I enter the house, she doesn’t bark. I love that she’s silent upon my arrival, because it makes me feel that I belong here. I like being an integral part of the pack. I think in other areas of my life, I need to be a bigger slice of the pack. A member of the author pack. A member of the publishing pack. A member of my pack of awesome girlfriends. It’s a creative world, and I want to be part of it.

Please forgive the awkward photo of Cricket. Because she can’t see, she was confused about what I was doing with the dish!

My Old SUV Inspired a Picture Book

I remember the playful statement I made to my teenage son last year on the way to his school. “Will, I need to be a polite driver and obey the laws of the road, because my car is so incredibly recognizable. Other drivers notice me, you know.” Will’s response? Eye roll, wrapped in a deadpan reaction, surrounded by mockery. “Uh, no, Mom, no one ever notices you. No one. And they definitely don’t pay attention your car.” We both laughed and went back to listening to our favorite morning drive radio show.

suvSee, I’ve spent many years braving the freeways of Houston during rush hour while chauffeuring my kids to school. What you don’t know about me is that I like to cover the back of my SUV with meaningful bumper stickers. There’s one from my alma mater, Baylor University. Will’s school, Bellaire High. Katie’s college, Southern Methodist in Dallas. Pamela’s law school at the University of Texas in Austin. Mason’s college, University of St. Thomas. Then there are my declarative stickers: I ♥ Telluride, I ♥ My Havanese, and Do What You Like/Like What You Do! The bumper stickers have become a running joke with my friends and family. But you can’t blame me for trying to make my car seem a little less ordinary than the plain, whitish-bronze, 2003 SUV that it is.

I teased Will that morning about having a memorable car that everyone notices. He bantered back that no one would ever notice me. It was a simple joke, but it got me thinking. What else—besides bumper stickers—makes a vehicle stand out? What makes a car memorable? My own questions triggered me to contemplate art cars. Art cars are pretty darn memorable, I thought. By the time I had finished my morning carpool, the idea for Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car was born. And even though I’m not an illustrator, I knew it would somehow become a picture book.

  • DO A BIT OF RESEARCH!

I wondered. Has anyone already written a story like this? Are there books available for children that describe art cars? I visited bookstores and libraries, and I researched the topic. I found several interesting photographic art car books for adults. But no colorful children’s books. No imaginative made-up stories. I asked around, and I was surprised that many people don’t even know what art cars are.

It seems that most residents in and around Houston know about art cars, because Houston is home of the country’s first and largest annual art car parade (now in it’s 29th year). But most of my friends and relatives outside of Houston have never seen or heard of an art car. This discovery made me want to write and publish my story even more. I couldn’t wait to see the Arthur Zarr of my imagination come to life.

I rushed home from my library/bookstore quest to write. The story is set in a small, imaginary town, where Arthur Zarr is a quiet man with few friends. His life is rather plain, and his car is plain, too. But not for long! Arthur gets a creative idea to add everyday objects to his car’s exterior. People in his community start noticing him for the first time. Neighbors and other bystanders join Arthur by adding their own artistic flair to his car. Soon, he becomes a contender in the town’s Art Car Parade. Arthur Zarr finds happiness and makes friends by building an amazing art car.

  • BE SURE TO COLLABORATE!

All this, just from a silly conversation about my bumper stickers! My husband read the manuscript first, and he liked it. His enthusiasm gave me the confidence to continue to pursue the project. Friends and family encouraged me to self-publish, but I needed objective advice. A local advertising guru agreed to a gratis consult. He listened to my idea, and he said the same thing: go home and self-publish your book. He said something else that stuck with me: “Start talking about your book, Cathey. I’ve seen ideas die on the vine simply because someone was afraid to talk about it. Start talking about your book. Start collaborating.”

I had already written and self-published a nonfiction history book, but never a picture book. I asked around and made a few calls, which led me to a handful of illustrator options. I narrowed the list down to Bill Megenhardt, an experienced Houston children’s book illustrator with great references. His services weren’t exactly inexpensive, but he wasn’t the most expensive either. It was manageable. The illustration and print costs are not small, so this is a serious venture for me. But as my bumper sticker advises, I’m doing what I like and liking what I do! If all goes as planned, the book will be ready by November.

Listen to that kernel of inspiration that might be tickling the back of your mind. Pay attention to the silly stuff you joke about with friends or family. You never know, an object as ordinary as a 12-year-old SUV covered with bumper stickers might be all it takes to trigger your next project. And, like Arthur Zarr, maybe you’ll build something as amazing as an art car.

Hey, how about “liking” my creative guy, Arthur Zarr, on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/ArthurZarrsAmazingArtCar

How I Wrote a Thesis and a Book… At the Same Time!

Completing my thesis—and thus wrapping up my graduate degree—was one of those items I was determined to check off my buthesisblogcket list. But I had gotten remarried, and my new husband and I were trying to blend our family of three children. Then, I had another baby. Life’s circumstances pushed my thesis goal to the back burner. Sixteen years later, I was still writing at the top of my bucket list: “Finish Master of Liberal Arts degree.”

In the mid-90s, I enjoyed a dream job as the public information officer for a university in Louisiana. Prior to that, I had done public relations work in the healthcare industry. So, working with professors in an academic environment was a new adventure. The politics and flavor of campus life fascinated me, and I wanted to soak in all my new workplace had to offer. When I discovered that full-time employees were allowed to take classes at no expense, I was first in line to register. I was a single, working-mother in my late 20s, so the words “free tuition” sounded like winning the lottery.

TIP #1: IT’S NORMAL FOR YOUR ENGINE TO STALL!

By taking night courses after work and some during my lunch hour, I eventually finished the required credits for a Master of Liberal Arts degree. The only thing I lacked to graduate was writing a thesis. That’s where I stalled. I had heard from my professors that the M.L.A. degree at this particular university was considered a “low-completer” program. Meaning, students usually finished the classes but often didn’t graduate due to the daunting thesis requirement.

That will never be me, I thought. I’d be a fool not to finish a graduate program that doesn’t even charge me tuition. I’m a writer. This will be a snap.

But that was me. I was a “low-completer.” I had a million excuses… I moved to another state. I got remarried. I had a baby. I can’t think of a thesis topic. Working long-distance with my professors will be difficult. Too much time has passed (16 years!). The Graduate Council probably won’t readmit me into the program.

Plus, that requirement of a thesis paper being “original research” stumped me even more. I had, of course, written numerous news releases, brochures, newsletters, articles and research papers. The thesis, however, was a whole different beast. All my insecurities about writing crept to the surface.

Tip #2: START SAYING YES!

 One day, I got a bucket-list-changing phone call from my father. He’s the President/CEO of a non-profit organization in Houston, and he wanted me to research and write its rich sixty-year history. The Institute for Spirituality and Health has been around for six decades, but no one had ever compiled their unique story into one cohesive document. He thought of his daughter (me!) and made the call.

I wanted to get back into writing. I wanted something to call my own. Something that didn’t involve kids, carpooling, or running a home. Something creative. I also saw a chance to finish my graduate degree at the same time. I knew that if the university’s Graduate Council would agree, I could kill two birds with one stone. So I immediately answered, “yes.”

Tip #3: DON’T EVER THINK YOU’VE MISSED THE BOAT!

 Even though I hadn’t spoken to her in many years, I got up the nerve to call one of my former graduate school professors. The first surprise was that she remembered me. The second surprise was that she liked my thesis idea. She asked me to petition the Graduate Council in writing. I did, and my research topic was accepted! I was readmitted back into the program, my lengthy time-lapse forgiven. She even agreed to serve as one of my committee readers, along with two others.

I spent many months conducting one-on-one oral history interviews with longtime supporters of the Institute for Spirituality and Health. Some of the interviewees were in their 90s, so my work mattered. I was helping to preserve history by writing down their memories. I dissected my notes to find a perfect quote here and there. I spent tedious hours every day, searching through sixty-year’s worth of board minutes, newsletters, hand-written letters, special event programs, books, and other documents.

The hard work paid off. I compiled the first chronological historical record of the organization’s years from 1955 to 2015. It was original, never-before-written research. The graduate committee approved my thesis document, and my defense was accepted. I earned my master’s degree.

TIP #4: BE A HIGH-COMPLETER!

 The Institute had a modest financial budget for the history book, but it was enough. I hired a graphic designer and chose Lightning Source/Ingram Spark as our printing company. The result: “Uniting Faith, Medicine and Healthcare: A 60-Year History of the Institute for Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center” was released in May 2015 to coincide with the organization’s sixtieth anniversary.

The 120-page book is available for purchase online through Amazon and/or Barnes and Noble. The softcover (ISBN: 978-0-692-42612-8) is $12.00, and the hardcover version (ISBN: 978-0-692-42613-5) is $18.00. All proceeds benefit the Institute for Spirituality and Health, which depends on contributions from the community to achieve ongoing success.

I don’t profit financially from sales of the Institute’s history book. But I profit in other ways. I feel like a “high-completer” now. My bucket list is a little shorter, too. Working on my thesis and the ensuing book brought me back to life. I haven’t stopped writing since, and I continue to develop other book projects. Next up is my first children’s picture book called, “Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car,” which I hope to launch in November 2015.

What’s on your bucket list?

 

 

Cathey’s First Blog

Hi guys! I’m a big fan of actress Valerie Harper. Like so many teenage girls, I identified with Rhoda Morgenstern on the 1970s Mary Tyler Moore Show. I love something Valerie said once, “Don’t let your fear today rob you of a fun life.” Since Valerie’s been battling cancer for about five years, I figure she’s an expert at making each day count. That’s the kind of person I strive to be.

I write in a bright sunny office at my home here in Texas. My workspace features a large cork board that’s covered with inspirational notes and pictures. Pretty much anything that interests me goes on the board. On one scrap of torn paper, next to Valerie’s quote, I jotted down another phrase I like: “The ability to grow is directly related to the amount of insecurity you are able to take in your life.” I guess that means I need to do things that make me anxious! That’s how I approach my new writing career… It’s a little scary when I think about the possibility of failure, but that’s not going to stop me.

Be tenacious and determined!

Thanks for reading my first post. Hopefully I’ll get better as I go.

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© 2018 Cathey Graham Nickell