Archives: #amwriting

My First Podcast! Thank you, Dan Blank!

Celebrating my fiftieth school visit in October was a milestone that made me want to do cartwheels (if I still can?). I wrote a fun blog about it that you can READ HERE, and it was an amazing feeling to treat the school, Ridgemont Elementary of Houston, to a number of surprises that I had up my sleeve.

One surprise that I did not plan for or expect to receive was a PODCAST! After I posted a photo of myself holding two large gold FIVE-O balloons on Instagram, I almost immediately received a text from Dan Blank. He said he was fascinated that although my children’s book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, came out awhile ago (in 2016), he was impressed that I’d done such a good job of making it relevant. Of showing up. Of forging meaningful connections around it. WOW! That made my day! Dan then asked what I had learned along the way and what value I had realized from it. We chatted, and he said he’d like to feature me on his podcast.

Our interview is titled “Keeping a Book Alive (and selling thousands of copies) Two Years After Lauch” … and I love how it turned out. Hopefully you will, too. Here is a LINK  to listen. It’s about 34 minutes long, so grab a cup of coffee and a cookie before you click play. 😉

Let me rewind a bit to tell you who Dan is, in case you don’t know. Dan Blank is the founder of WE GROW MEDIA, and he helps writers and creative professionals share their stories and connect with their audience. He has collaborated with thousands of people via consulting, workshops, and courses. Additionally, he’s worked with amazing organizations such as Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Sesame Workshop, Workman Publishing, J. Walter Thompson, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others.

Dan also facilitates the Creative Shift Mastermind, which I was fortunate enough to participate in twice. When you sign up for his Mastermind course, you join Dan and approximately ten other writers to find more time to create, hone your creative process, reach readers, and get accountability. The next session begins January 1, 2019, and you can sign up for it HERE!

Pick up your own copy of BE THE GATEWAY by Dan Blank. I loved this book!

Finally, Dan is the author of BE THE GATEWAY: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience. It’s available on Amazon, and HERE IS A LINK TO BUY IT. If you prefer Barnes & Noble, you can FOLLOW THIS LINK and order a copy. I purchased the book as soon as it came out, and several nuggets of wisdom jumped out at me. Like this, where Dan writes: “Be the gateway. Instead of framing the value of your work by how it performs in the market, you define it by how other people experience the world through your creative work—the stories and experiences you share, and the topics you talk about.” AND this statement resonated with me, too: “Reframe success so it isn’t about seeking validation from massive audiences, but rather how you reach one person.”

I also appreciate Dan’s suggestion that to find success, creative professionals must hone in on what matters more than anything else. Find the core part of what matters to you most. Don’t seek quick validation. Think about what you would fight to NOT lose. Dan continues:

“This is why millions of ‘clever ideas’ sit on hard drives, in the bottom of someone’s desk drawer and in the back of someone’s mind, never seeing the light of day. It is the reason why when someone has a huge smash hit with an idea, thousands of others say, ‘I thought of that years ago.’ Why did this one person succeed? Because they believed in it more. It was more core to their personal narrative of what mattered, and where they could devote their time, energy, and money. The person who succeeded waded through risk long after you would have said, ‘This is crazy … I’m not wading any further into this.'”

I talk about this very thing in Dan’s podcast. About how when I got the idea to write Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, it was a dream that grabbed me. A creative passion that I didn’t let go of—not for a minute—until I was holding the beautiful book in my hands. And since art often imitates life (or maybe, according to Oscar Wilde, it’s the other way around), my fictional character, Arthur Zarr, did the same thing. He didn’t know he was going to build an art car that day when he first glued an acorn to the front of his vehicle. It was just a snippet of an idea. An idea as small as the very acorn itself. But that idea grew and grew into an amazing art car, and as a result, Arthur made friends and found his community—his tribe—along the way. Here’s a quick link to buy ARTHUR ZARR’S AMAZING ART CAR.

My children’s picture book was released in 2016 and is still thriving!

And like my imaginary Arthur Zarr, I’ve found my tribe, too. Amazing friends I met through Dan’s Creative Shift Mastermind—Teri Case, Lisa Sinicki, Amanda Toler Woodward, Rupert Davies-Cooke, and Brian Joyner. People I met online or in person through various writing groups—Ellen Leventhal, Noelle Shawa, Rachel Kosoy, Ellen Rothberg, Lynn Abrams, Allison Zapata, and Shelley Kinder. Those I met in the trenches of book creation—Bill Megenhardt, Emily Calimlim, Paige Duke, Sheri Jacobs, Scott Sinnet, and Mackie Bushong. The many teachers and librarians who have supported me by inviting me to speak at their schools. Old friends I’ve known for years who share my passion for books and writing—Laura Holman-Byrne, Mary Ann Van Osdell, Pat and John Graham (Hi, Mom & Dad!), and so many others. And of course, I can’t forget ALL my fantastic new art car friends!

What are you passionate about? What creative push are you focused on today? Whatever it is … Be Amazing!

 

Amazing Author #1: TERI CASE

 

My friend, Teri Case

Picking up on an fun idea that I’ve seen on other websites, I decided to start a periodic column on my blog called the “Amazing Authors Series.” I didn’t even have to ponder who I would feature first—I knew. TERI CASE is a witty, smart, talented writer I met in an online Mastermind course in 2016. After chatting through that Slack group for awhile, we eventually became friends beyond the course. I’ve never met Teri in person, but not for a lack of trying. We planned to meet for a cup of coffee last year when I was visiting New York with my family (Teri lives a train ride away from where I was staying); alas, an unexpected blizzard prevented her from traveling to the Big Apple. Maybe next time!

Teri and I share texts, emails and the occasional phone call to bounce ideas off each other and discuss our various book projects. I’ve served as a beta reader on two of her novels; she has done the same for me. It’s invaluable to have a colleague who enjoys brainstorming (ad nauseam, lol) about the same topics that I like. I highly recommend you find a Teri Case ♡ if you don’t already have one! Read her interview below, and perhaps you’ll order a copy of her moving, raw, powerful, debut novel Tiger Drive. It’s a wonderful vacation read; I couldn’t put it down! It’s also recommended for book clubs, and Teri will Skype into your book club, schedules permitting.

Tiger Drive is available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Q: What genre of books do you write?

  • Literary Fiction

Q: Do you write anything besides books?

I write a (mostly) weekly newsletter called Vitality Stories where I share a variety of stories, experiences, Dear Me letters, and updates on my current projects.

Q: What did you like to read as a child?

  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder;
  • My dad’s True Crime Magazines (I wish I were kidding);
  • I’m not sure if schools still do this, but when I was in elementary school, we’d get a Scholastic order form each month to order books (and kitten or puppy posters). I always got to buy a book to read. I wish I could remember all the titles;
  • I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books, too.

Q: What jobs have you had?

  • I was the youngest assistant manager ever at Round Table Pizza in high school;
  • I witnessed weddings for the Justice of the Peace in Carson City, Nevada, for four years, three Saturdays a month. I made $5 per wedding (and the judge always bought me lunch);
  • I worked as a cocktail waitress for one summer to catch up on bills—the hardest job I’ve ever had to be sure;
  • I held a variety of secretarial jobs at the University of Nevada, Reno, both as a student worker and as a full-time employee after I graduated;
  • I once assisted a CFO at a luggage and leather goods company. The owner was paranoid, so our office was in a warehouse with no windows because the owner was afraid of snipers and assassins;
  • I was a credit manager for an outdoor apparel company;
  • I was a c-level executive assistant in the biotech industry for decades;
  • And now, I’m an author!

Q: Is writing your full-time job or part-time passion? In other words, do you have a day job?

Writing has been a full-time job for the past four years (though I’m hard pressed to prove my productivity looking back on it—you’d think I’d have four books published by now. Egad!).

Q: How long have you been a writer?

I wrote my first book in the third grade. It was about a Native American boy named Andy who had a pear-shaped head. All the kids picked on him for the shape of his head. I wrote my second book thirty-two years ago. I was fifteen, and it was a teen romance. I entered it in a contest with Seventeen magazine. I punched three holes in the margin and bound it with light blue yarn. I didn’t win.

Q: Do you have an agent? Do you think it is important to have one?

I do not have an agent because it’s not important for me to have one. I think whether or not an author needs an agent is a highly subjective decision and influenced by the individual’s goals, capabilities, and resources, as well as the specific project.

Q: Did you publish through the traditional route or self-publish? Any thoughts you’d like to share about this?

I chose to self-publish Tiger Drive based on my goals, capabilities, and resources. I have no regrets. In fact, I am going to self-publish my second book, In the Doghouse, as well.

Tiger Drive comes in two different cover choices. So, I bought both! Decisions, decisions.

Q: What can you tell me about your most recent book or project?

Tiger Drive is about four members in a white trash family trying to break the mindset and habits of generations to change their futures and to prove they matter (February 2018 release). I’m super proud of the novel and some of the reviews have made me cry happy tears.

I’m currently editing my second novel, In the Doghouse, but I’m not ready to share the premise yet. I’m afraid someone will beat me to the idea (laughs out loud, maniacally). People usually respond to this fear with, “Only you can write the story your way.” But sometimes a story’s premise is different enough that it would be a challenge to have more than one book out at a time with the same premise, and that’s how I feel about my latest project. But I promise to share more as soon as possible.

Q: Now’s your chance to brag a little … anything you want to add?

Writing Tiger Drive inspired the Tiger Drive Scholarship for high school students who want to reach, learn, and grow beyond their familiar environment by pursuing a college education. So far, eight scholarships have been awarded and a few of the recipients made the Dean’s List their first year in college.  [Cathey’s Note: I love contributing to Teri’s scholarship program. Here’s some information about donating.]

Q: What advice do you have for other writers?

Dear Writers:

To break a writing rule and use a worn-out cliché, there is no time like the present. In fact, there is no time except the present. Sit your butt down, turn on a timer for twenty minutes each day, and write.

Love,

Teri

Q: Do you have any pets?

I currently don’t have any pets because my partner and I travel (and move) a lot, and I’d hate to leave them behind. Growing up, I had a dog, Marie, who lived to be thirteen; she died just six months after my father passed away. As an adult, I had a wonderful Labrador-mix, Kimo, for thirteen years. I lost him in a breakup, and in hindsight, losing him was the hardest part about the breakup. But it was the right choice and he lived four more very happy years without me.

Q: Would you mind giving us the LINKS to your social media? 

https://www.tericase.com

Instagram: @TeriLCase

Facebook: TeriCase_Author

Twitter: @tericase_author

Will the REAL Mr. Newland Please Stand Up?

If you’re near my age (55), you probably watched that television game show, TO TELL THE TRUTH, which aired from about 1956 to 1978. On the show, four celebrity panelists were presented with three contestants. The challenge was to identify which contestant accurately matched up with the unusual occupation or experience that was read aloud by the host. Two challengers were lying; one was telling the truth. At the end, the legitimate person stood up.

A recent experience has had me thinking about that show all week. It started with an idea that’s been buzzing around in my brain for a middle grade book—you know, lots of chapters, aimed at readers age 8-12. I’ve already written the first book in what I hope might turn into a children’s series, and I secretly refer to it as The Bee Book (not the real title). I’m currently querying agents with that manuscript in hopes of getting on the path to publication. I’ll blog about the query experience later!

I’m now working on an outline so that I can draft what I’ll call Bee Book Two. The second book is going to require a good bit of research because it covers a scientific topic that’s outside my area of expertise. I needed to interview someone who specializes in astronomy, and I remembered my son took that class last year at his high school. I emailed Will’s former teacher—Jimmy Newland—and asked if I could talk to him in person about a potential book idea. He was happy to help, and we set up an appointment. Mr. Newland asked me to show up at a specific time, on a specific day, and told me he was in Room 186 of the school’s science wing.

Punctual as ever, I showed up, walked into the classroom, smiled. I think I even waved at him, chirping, “Hello!” The teacher replied, “Hi!” I explained, “I’m Will Nickell’s mom.” He said, “Cool, give me five minutes. I just need to start these kids on a makeup test.” I waited until he was free, and he then said, “So what’s up? What can I do for you?” I proceeded to tell him about my book idea, and he got animated. “This is good,” he said, “and it’s definitely a real-world plausible story idea. This could work!” I was excited by HIS excitement. It was contagious. He gave me lots of ideas, pointers, and recommendations. I took notes. I thanked him for his help and left.

Feeling pumped about the experience, I texted my son: “Hey! I just met Mr. Newland and he loved my book idea. He was so helpful!”

After a while Will texted me back: “When did you see him?”

ME: “Today! He was great! And he gave me so much info!”

WILL: “Umm, I just went by to say hello to Mr. Newland. He said you were a no-show.”

ME (annoyed): “Nope, I was there. He was great! So helpful!”

WILL: “When? Today? Where did you go? What room?”

ME (exasperated): “No worries. Let’s just talk after school.”

When I picked Will up from school, he peppered me with questions. “Exactly which guy did you talk to, Mom?” I went through the details again, explaining that I met Mr. Newland in Room 186, he loved my idea, blah-blah-blah. Not letting it drop, Will said, “Mom, did he have on a red shirt? Because Mr. Newland is wearing a red shirt today.” Confused, I admitted that the man I had spoken to wore a blue sweater. Not red.

This was NOT the REAL Mr. Newland!

Will (laughing at me) Googled a photo of Mr. Newland, and turned his phone screen toward me: “Is THIS who you talked to today? Because THIS is actually Mr. Newland.” Alas, it was not. I wasn’t sure who I had interviewed! I quickly opened my laptop and emailed Mr. Newland: “I was there today, but apparently I met with some random teacher who was not you. But he was very helpful and knew a lot about astronomy! LOL!” The red-shirted Mr. Newland wrote me right back: “I’m curious who this person was. That’s a very good story though. Let’s try again Monday.”

Round Two. I returned to the high school, went to the science wing and realized my mistake. On the prior visit, I had accidentally entered Room 185. This time, I made sure to go to the correct room (186, doh!). The good news is that the REAL Mr. Newland liked my story idea, too … just as much as the “fake” Mr. Newland did! Halfway through my premise he said, “I’m already excited about this.” He gave me names of three experts for me to interview as part of my research; I took more notes. He encouraged me to proceed, saying, “You’ve definitely got a great idea.”

I eventually figured out who the teacher in the blue sweater was—another legit science teacher who does, indeed, know plenty about astronomy. He didn’t deliberately pose as Mr. Newland; in his defense, he had no idea why I was there, but he chose to be nice and helpful. And come to think of it, he never actually SAID his name. (I’m sure he was scratching his head later: “Who was that mom and why was she bothering me!?”)

To tell the truth, it was affirming to get a thumbs-up from not one but two smart astronomy teachers. And next time I’ll double-check the classroom number a little more closely.

Now I’m off to outline this new book.

—Bee Amazing. 😉

 

 

 

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!

Halloweensie Writing Contest

Susanna Leonard Hill’s 7th annual Halloweensie Writing Contest has arrived! The rules are as follows: Write a 100-word Halloween story appropriate for children 12 and under, using the words candy corn, monster, and shadow. (Candy corn is counted as one word).  So here goes:

 

POOR TERRENCE (100 words)   

 

Terrence was terrible,

as everyone knew.

He stomped on toys,

he kicked with his shoe.

 

“You’re such a monster!”

His classmates would shout,

“You ruin all our playthings,

you should be thrown out!”

 

When Halloween came,

Terrence snatched their candy.

He hid in the shadows,

he scared Sue and Randy!

 

“You’re always so mean,”

the children cried.

“You ate all our candy corn!”

“Be nice!” Teacher sighed.

 

The day after Halloween,

Terrence tried to do better.

He stopped kicking and stomping,

wrote an apology letter:

 

“I’m sorry for being

a candy corn robber!

Let’s be friends,

or I’ll give you a clobber!”

 

UPDATE: I didn’t win anything for this entry, but it was a lot of fun to write. — Be Amazing

Woo-hoo, Chattanooga choo-choo!

Can you believe it? My book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, has taken me on the road to speak to children at schools around the country! To date, I’ve spoken at some 38 schools in my hometown of Houston; in Shreveport & Monroe, Louisiana; in Atlanta, Georgia; and in Austin, Texas.

Bill Megenhardt says this is the kind of art car a ram would probably drive!

Most recently, I was invited to travel to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and I spent a beautiful morning speaking to students at Bess T. Shepherd Elementary School. Three art car drivers joined us at my school visit: Isaac Cohen (Houston), Wendy Tippens (Tennessee), and Paulette Perlman (Florida). And the presentation wouldn’t have been complete without the talent of my amazing illustrator, Bill Megenhardt. Together, I think all of us delivered a visit that the students will remember for a long time. And that’s not all—several other art car drivers visited a few more schools around town: Jewelz Cody, Bonnie Blue, Ted Mangum, and a few others (I’ll try to find out their names to add them later!).

We were IN THE NEWS throughout the Chattanooga weekend, starting with an article published in The ChattanooganRead the article here!  What’s more, News 12 (WDEF-TV, David Moore) was on hand to film the school event, and the children were excited to meet a real author, a real illustrator, and to view the art cars up close and personal. Click the words “ART CARAVAN” below to see the televised feature!

Art Caravan

Kate Warren (Art 120), Cathey Nickell, and Lee Warren.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the dynamic Kate Warren, executive director of Art 120, a seven-year-old non-profit organization created to enrich Chattanooga and its surrounding community through the creation, education, and celebration of STE(A)M-based learning. Kate explains, “About 32 of our 42 elementary schools in Chattanooga do not even have art programs, so our organization raises funds to bring art to the schools.” Read more on what ART 120 is doing by clicking this link!

Kate is the mastermind behind the Scenic City Art Car Weekend, which she brought to her town about six years ago. This year, more than a dozen art cars showed up from around the country, bringing a weekend of inspiration to the city. Perhaps you’ll consider a DONATION to Art 120 to help support the amazing work they’re doing for school children in Chattanooga. Every $5 donation brings art to a child, and Kate’s passion for her mission is contagious. (I hope you catch it!)

Isaac Cohen brought the beautiful wooden “Slider” from Houston for the weekend festivities.

The cherry on top of my stay in Chattanooga was a book signing at Barnes and Noble (thank you, Kelly Flemings). It was a great weekend full of fantastic art cars, hometown charm, delicious food, interesting sites, and a whole bunch of new friends. I enjoyed my visit so much, and I hope you’ll read more about the creative, important work of Art 120 through the links I’ve posted here.

Be like these guys—be amazing!

Ted Mangum’s “Radio Flyer” was one of the art car hits of the weekend!

 

The Love-a-lots!

Illustration (just for fun!) by Cathey Graham Nickell … with a little bit of tracing involved.

It’s that time of year! Time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s 6th Annual Holiday Contest. The rules this year are fun: Write a children’s holiday story using the basic format/concept of “The Twelve Days Of Christmas,” not to exceed 300 words.

The story can be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever else one might celebrate. Once it’s written, the contestants are asked to post it on their website.

In February of this year, my “Valentiny” story (which had a 214-word limit)—called “Kandie’s Kiss”—won second place!

I don’t know if I’ll get to keep my fancy crown or not, but here goes! Happy Holidays!

 

THE LOVE-A-LOTS!

(300 words)

 

Dearest Santa Claus,

We are a warm and lovely pair

With lots of love to give.

If only we had children,

We’d have new reason to live!

 

It’s been our Christmas yearning

As long as we recall.

Alas, we are still childless;

Perhaps our wish is too tall?

            Signed, Mr. and Mrs. Love-a-lot

 

On the first day of Christmas,

Santa answered their request.

He brought the Love-a-lots a girl,

Who had no house to rest.

 

On the second day of Christmas,

Santa brought one more.

A boy with sun-tanned skin,

Who’d never had a home before.

 

On the third day of Christmas,

Santa knew what to deliver.

Twin orphans from afar,

Their excitement all aquiver.

 

“Oh, my!” exclaimed the couple,

Their emotions were quite sappy.

“Three boys and one girl!

We’re finally feeling happy!”

 

But that wasn’t all, you see,

For Santa had a plan.

On the fourth day of Christmas,

He added six more to the clan!

 

The ten children bonded,

As they studied, ate and played.

They came from different countries,

Each skin a different shade.

 

It wasn’t long before the neighbors

Began their talk and whispers:

“Those Love-a-lots are such a mess,

Too many brothers and sisters!”

 

And so to show the busybodies

Their thoughts were quite outlandish,

Santa delivered two more darlings,

On days five and six with brandish.

 

“We love our growing family,”

Mrs. Love-a-lot said caringly.

“But twelve children are enough,

We’re getting by so sparingly.”

 

When Santa Claus heard her words,

He tied packages tight with twine

And delivered toys, clothes and extra beds

On days seven, eight and nine.

 

The neighbors’ hearts began to thaw,

They took sweet treats off the shelf

And dispensed them to the Love-a-lots

On days tenth, eleventh and twelfth.

 

Thank you, dear Santa!

From all the Love-a-lots!

 

UPDATE:  Alas, no prizes for my entry, but the challenge was good writing practice! — Be Amazing

 

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. 🙂

Arthur Zarr By The Numbers

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Promoting my children’s book has become a favorite pastime!

This week—May 3, 2016 to be exact—marks the six-month anniversary of the launch date of my children’s picture book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. I thought it might be interesting to celebrate the occasion with a breakdown of numbers and other fun facts.

NUMBERS:

  • 783 = total number of books sold so far
  • 100 = number of books donated to schools, libraries, and contest winners
  • 95 = number of books purchased by customers online through Amazon.com
  • 40 = number of pounds that each case of books weighs
  • 41 = number of readers who posted five-star reviews on Amazon
  • 1 = number of times I’ve been interviewed on a NPR station (Thanks, Kate Archer Kent, formerly of Red River Radio!)
  • 8 = number of newspaper or magazine articles about my book
  • 5 = number of schools I’ve presented to
  • 1,000,0005 = number of schools I wish I could present to!
  • 1,400 = approximate number of children who have heard/seen my presentation
  • 5,000 = number of giveaway bookmarks I ordered
  • 10 = number of Indie book shops and other stores that sell my book
  • 23 = number of states my book buyers come from
  • 21 = number of months it took me to write and publish my book
  • 29 = number of art car parades Houston has hosted since 1987
  • 1 = number of art car exhibits inspired by my book so far (Thanks, Northeast Louisiana Children’s Museum and Melissa Saye!)
  • 1 = number of bearded men driving a Santa Claus car I’ve met (Hi, Bryan Taylor!)
  • Countless = number of art car daily drivers and other new friends I’ve met as a result of writing this book.

FUN FACTS:

  • Canada = country where my book was printed
  • Venezuela = purchase made from the farthest away
  • Roswell, New Mexico = most interesting city represented by a buyer (Hmm, aliens?)
  • Patsy Stamps Graham = name of person who thinks she bought the first copy of my book (Thanks, Mom!)
  • John Cooper = name of person who actually bought the first copy (Sorry, Mom, but I’m finally admitting that he beat you to it!)
  • Connie May Bingham = name of person who made the first online Amazon purchase
  • Jason Rounds = friend who drove the farthest to attend a book signing event (Jason and his daughter drove 1 hour from Texarkana to Shreveport). Two of my relatives, Shawna and Amanda Cotten, did the same!
Front page of the Houston Chronicle's neighborhood section!

Thank you, Houston Chronicle, for the front page Community Extra article!

THANK YOU, to Bill Megenhardt, for your amazing illustrations and wonderful collaboration. And, THANK YOU, to everyone out there who helped make my publishing success possible. I appreciate every book purchase, every Facebook like or share, every re-tweeted Twitter message, and every friend or stranger who showed up at a book signing event. I appreciate all the creative art car artists who have welcomed me into their fold.

The thing I’m the most proud of is that Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car has inspired so many children to open up their imagination in countless ways. I remember the boy from a Houston school who said, “Mrs. Nickell, I went straight home after your talk and wrote and drew my very own art car book.” I feel like I’ve left a small mark on the world, and it’s been a life-changing experience for me.

Be like Arthur Zarr … be amazing!

 

 

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.

Scan 1

“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. ♥

Publicity & Art Car Fun!

contest-wonDid I mention that my book cover WON a Facebook contest in October?  A site called Promoting Picture Books ran a fun contest, and my cover of Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car won! Thanks goes to my amazing illustrator, Bill Megenhardt, who designed the vibrant image on the front of the book and throughout all the inside pages!

My new picture book also was featured at the Wilchester Elementary Arts Market, where I had a booth and sold books. Bill was on hand to draw some adorable on-the-spot artwork for the kids! An art teacher at Wilchester, Stephanie Walton, made it all possible! She will also present my book at a workshop this week at the Texas Art Education Association (TAEA) Art Teacher’s Conference, held in Galveston. She helps other teachers learn how to incorporate art cars into their classroom lesson plans. She rocks! Thanks for handing out my bookmarks and flyers at the conference, Stephanie!

JMH_2026St. Mark’s Episcopal School welcomed me on Nov. 10 for an Author’s Visit. I had a great time talking to the kids in multiple grades about “Amazing Book Ideas: Where do they come from?” They were a fantastic bunch, were super attentive, and asked great questions. Thank you, St. Mark’s, for making me feel comfortable the first time I presented at a school. (Two of my nieces attend this precious school, which made the day even more special for me).

You’ll never believe what this Saturday Nov. 14 is … that’s right, it’s WORLD ARTCAR DAY 2015 Houston! Who knew there was a whole day set aside to celebrate these rolling works of art? The Houston Art Car Museum will have a mini-art car making workshop from 12:00 noon until 3:00 pm. Each child will get a toy car and all the paint, glue and accessories they need to create their very own miniature art car. On hand will be local art cars of the Houston Art Car Klub. Check it out here!

If I think of anything else going on, I’ll update the post. For now, I think this is plenty. It’s been a busy launch week, but lots of fun!

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!

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!

© 2018 Cathey Graham Nickell