Monday, February 27, 2017

Meet My Friend Carrie Fannin

I recently met Carrie at the online Children's Book Academy. We took a wonderful class together, and one of the best parts of the class was getting to know such wonderful authors like Carrie.

I wish her the best of luck with her career. I love her art work. Maybe some day we'll get to collaborate on a book!

Here's an author interview with her. Enjoy!

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am an illustrator, writer, and photographer. I am a graduate of the New York Institute of Photography and the Children's Book Academy, and is an active member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I live in the Atlanta area with my husband Todd and two spoiled dogs, Claire and Aiden. I am currently working on several picture books and a full-length historical novel.
What is your earliest memory of books? How did you become a book lover?
My parents laid the foundations for my love of reading well before I was born, even before my conception, back in the early days of their marriage. My mom and dad were young--my mother was just eighteen and my dad was twenty-one when they married. Naturally, they were poor. My newlywed father, recently mustered out of the Army, aspired to become a science-fiction writer.
They had no money for going out, but my mother has the fondest memories of their evenings of sitting up in bed together. My mom would read her latest find from the local library while my dad scribbled in his notebooks with “the baby,”my bald-headed brother, propped up between them and pretending to read an upside-down copy of Fox in Sox. By the time I came along, reading was a firmly established habit in our house.
My parents were not highly educated, having only finished high school. However, they stand as some of the smartest people I have ever known, especially my father.
Dad was the one who read to us the most, often giving us evening performances of adventure stories from the latest Reader’s Digest. He acted out the “I survived a bear attack” narratives, which seemed to appear in the magazine with alarming frequency, complete with growling effects and adding his own side commentaries.
The voice in my head when I read to myself as a child was often that of my father.
On the other hand, my mother did not have my dad’s dramatic flair. She was the manager of the family, and her teaching me to read was more an accidental by-product of her multitasking than a deliberate outcome. 
Mom loved books. She often finished reading in the piles of book my older sister, and I brought home from the library in night long, marathon sessions. However, I do not have many memories of my mother reading those books, or anything else, aloud to us, nor of her teaching me the alphabet. What I do remember is sitting on her lap.

To explain: My folks were not religious initially. Having a family changed all that, and they looked around for a suitable belief system in which to raise a family. The denomination they chose suited their tastes admirably with its emphasis on the extensive study of the Bible and Bible-based literature. I was barely more than a toddler then. I sat on my mother’s lap for hours during meetings, watching her finger move underneath the words on the page, while hearing them read out by various speakers.
My mom only intended to keep a restless three-year-old occupied through hours of gatherings in a church that did not offer a nursery. She ended up teaching me to read.
There, literally on my mother’s knee, I absorbed not only the mechanics of reading but also the love of the written word. It helped that the first words I was able to read for myself were both beautiful and powerful ones, words that have sparked fierce passions in so many throughout the centuries.
The Bible says that the world began with “the Word.” Mine certainly did.
It was in biblical verse that I first encountered the universal struggle of good versus evil, tales of deeply flawed heroes battling to do right, and the eternal human quest for a better future, in spite of our best efforts at self-destruction.
While I no longer share the beliefs of my parents’ religion, I am grateful that my literacy started in that context because of the richer understanding it brings to my reading of other works and books.
As a kid, I explored everything the school library had to offer. It was a somewhat limited selection, as we lived in a poor area of a small town in an impoverished State. Making do with what was available, I ran through as many Jack London, Anne Sewell, and S.E. Hinton books as I could get my hands on.
During the summers, my sister and I would also walk together the two miles to the county library. We scanned the sides of the road for empty soda bottles, trading them for candy at the little grocery-and-bait shop along the way, candy being excellent fortification for the long trek back with arms loaded down with a dozen books between us, the maximum allowed.
Due to our voracious reading habits, as well as my mother's pragmatic approval of having two of her children out from underneath her feet for a few hours, my sister and I made the trip often.
 What sparked your interest in becoming a picture book creator?
 About two years ago, it was cold and rainy. I was stuck inside the house and quite bored, unable to get outside to do any photography. I was wasting time on Facebook and saw that my niece posted some photos of the new puppy they had just adopted. She and her kids had named it Spike. The sentence “Spike the Dog-Dog was born on a cool fall day” just popped into my head and wouldn’t leave.

I wrote the story of Spike’s journey from his first home all the way to his forever home down just to get it out of my head. Well, that didn’t quite work, as the illustrations started popping up next!
So, I spent about a month creating the book Spike the Dog-Dog Goes Home and sent it to my niece and her kids as a gift. (“Dog-dog” was how my niece referred to dogs when she was a toddler, thus why I used it in the story.)
My niece recorded a video of her reading the book to her children. Oh, my! They were so excited to see their dog and their names in that story. (She says it is still one of their favorite books to read.)
Of course, kids are going to love a book that is about themselves. But still—the excitement I saw in their eyes as they read something I wrote and looked at pictures that I had created—wow. I will admit—I was hooked.
I made a few more individualized picture books after that as gifts for friends and family. So, I signed up for a writing class lead by Laurel Snyder, at the Decatur Writer’s Studio. It wasn’t long before I realized that I had a lot to learn. I’ve taken a couple more picture book classes with different teachers since then, joined a critique group, and started participating in the 2017 12 x 12 challenge with Julie Hedlund.
The buzz of seeing kids excited over one of my books got me started down this path, but the high of playing with images and language all day keeps me going. I love storytelling—both visual and verbal—more than anything.
Tell us a little bit about your current project.
My passion project is a story called A Girl and Her Dog. It is a lyrical exploration of a child’s experience of profound sadness. Young children have little control over their circumstances and often cannot avoid whatever negative things are going on with the adults in their lives. However, there are things kids can do to find happiness and peace. I hope that my story will help at least one or two children in that situation.
Another story that I will submit soon is Moogly Makes Magic. Moogly a little monster who is quite shy because he feels different. The story follows him as he learns that everyone has their thing that makes them “different”. It is a sweet story about finding self-acceptance as well as friendship.
My eventual goal is to publish as an author/illustrator. However, I likely will submit text only to begin with as I continue to refine my art to be publication ready.

What is the best advice that anyone has given you during this journey toward a published author?
I have to start with the worst advice I was given. A little while back, I had the wonderful experience of meeting a well-known author. He is an older gentleman who has traditionally published almost twenty books, three of which were made into movies. If I told you the titles, you would recognize them.
Anyway, we became friends and he was something of a mentor to me. This author gave me a TON of great advice, all of which I treasure. However, something he told me just was not good advice, at least for me. He told me to “avoid writers groups and classes.” He said that other writers would just tell me how to write whatever I was working on the way they would write it, which is of no help at all. That’s not bad advice as far as it goes.
But, writing and creating art is often a lonely business. I am an introvert, so the solitude is quite appealing to me. However, if it were not for taking classes and exchanging critiques, I likely would not have made the progress that I have in the past couple of years. I might not be writing at all. So, for me, that was bad advice.

Last fall, I took the illustration portion of the “Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Books” at the Children’s Book Academy with Dr. Mira Reisberg. It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time! Here I was, in this group of aspiring author/illustrators from all over the world, strangers who I have yet to see face to face, and I felt so at home. I had found my tribe. That class and the people in it buoyed me up and gave me a shot of creative energy just when I needed it.
So, my advice to any creatives out there is “find your tribe”.
Take classes, go to seminars, get online and participate in forums. If you are a kid-lit person, join SCBWI and go to conferences. If a group is dragging you down, of course don’t stay in it. But the right support it out there. We create with the door closed, as we should, but we still can draw creative strength from others who are working along the same path next to us.

If there was a book written about your life, what would the title be?   
My autobiography, should I ever write one, will be titled I Blame It All on Wonder Woman. I loved Wonder Woman as a kid. She was a role model to me, then and as well as now. Some of the biggest adventures of my life were because I grew up with watching Wonder Woman kicking butt and taking names, all the while wearing spangled hot pants and twirling a golden lasso.
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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Create a Door

I once heard an MBA commencement address where the speaker advised the graduates: “If you come up against an impenetrable wall, create a door.”

Image by Morder
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that seem unsolvable. We can feel overwhelmed and trapped. But there are always solutions to problems if we have enough knowledge and can brainstorm answers.

Several years ago, a friend came to me in a panic one day. Her brother had recently passed away. My friend had been spending one day a week with his children, her nieces and nephew. Before his death, her brother had been through a nasty divorce. And now his ex-wife was making plans to leave the state and move across the country to be near her family. My friend was despondent because she wouldn’t see the children again.

We ate at a little side-walk café while she poured out her heart. We sat, soaking up the sunshine and just being with the sadness of the situation.

“Since you won’t be able to pick the children up on Thursdays, how could you keep in touch?” I asked.

“I can call and write letters, I guess,” she answered.

“The older ones have phones, and we can text.”

I smiled. She answered her own question.

Over the years, my friend has stayed in contact with her nieces and nephew. Electronics are better than ever now. They chat on Facebook and Instagram. The children are older now and can travel. They see their aunt often and enjoy visiting her.

*State your problem.
*Visualize the wall and create a door in it.
*Brainstorm solutions.
*Let the problem sit for a day (if possible).
*Decide the best resolution.
*Move forward with action.

We cannot regulate the wind, but we can trim our sails.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Help Children Believe in Themselves

A young girl, Jane, came in for therapy. She felt victimized in the neighborhood at school. Her dominant father showed her how to fight back physically, and berated her because she didn’t engage in conflict. Her mother fretted and worried but had no solutions. Jane knew what she wanted but was afraid to share her ideas for fear they were no good. Her self-confidence was severely lacking.

The four of us worked together to empower this child, using the following ideas. Both parents were willing to listen and learn and change their behavior.

Listen to your child
This was an especially difficult task for both parents. The father discounted everything Jane said. Mother interrupted Jan, talking over her and sharing her worry. When the parents began to listen, Jane didn’t know what to say at first.

Ask for the child’s opinion
It took some time for this family to open their communication and discuss their issues. But therapy gave them a time of accounting, and they were successful.

Come up with solutions together
The three of them learned to come up with answers together. Although the father found it hard not to impose his ‘law’ in the discussions, he did learn to keep his mouth shut and listen.

Work together to unravel a problem
Mother had the most difficult time being solution-focused. She was not used to following through to resolve a problem. Over the years she had kept herself in a constant state of drama with her worry, and it was hard to let that go.

Discuss your success
When this family had a victory in solving a problem, they were able to talk about the things that worked and the things they would do differently next time.

Ask the child how he or she feels about the victory
Both parents were delighted with their victories, and praised Jane. I suggested that they asked Jane how she felt about her triumph.

Over the months, Jane’s relationship with her family and friends changed. She no longer felt victimized by those around her. Jane shared her ideas when she had play dates. She could lead and follow in the activities. She developed several close friendships in the neighborhood and at school.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. Winston Churchill