Spotlight: Syndicated Cartoonist Kevin Fagan

Kevin FaganHumorist Kevin Fagan is best known as the creator of Drabble, the syndicated cartoon strip appearing in over 200 newspapers nationally and various online forums globally. Kevin, then age 21, was the youngest syndicated cartoonist on record, receiving accolades from others in the industry including Charles M. Schulz. Over the decades he has only missed two days ‘work,’ inked eight books and just released his first novel, “A Drabble Family Christmas Tale.” Welcome to the spotlight, Kevin!

Q) The Drabbles: Ralph and June, parents of three – Norman, Patrick and Penny, and owners of pets, Wally the wiener dog, Bob the ‘parrot’ and Oogie the cat, have embodied many ordinary family topics, in an extraordinarily humorous way. Why did you pick now to tell their Christmas story in “A Drabble Family Christmas Tale,” and how much is based on your life, either when you were growing up, or now, with your children?

A Drabble Family Christmas Tale

A) Christmastime is one of my favorite subjects to write and draw about in Drabble.  It’s such an important time of year for many of us, and there is always plenty of material.  Much of the humor in Drabble is based on real life.  My kids always gave me ideas when they were growing up, and I certainly got a lot of ideas once I became a father.  

My first novel, “A Drabble Family Christmas Tale” incorporates a lot of the Christmas humor that my readers expect from the Drabble family, but the story is entirely original.  I’ve never told this story in the strip and it actually got a little more emotional than I expected!  My wife says she can judge a good book if it makes her laugh and cry.  I’m happy to say we passed her test!

In the book, Ralph thinks back to his childhood about a certain residential street with elaborate Christmas decorations, and one house in particular.  He tries to recreate those decorations on his own house, but something is missing.  He just can’t figure out what it is. Writing this book was a great experience.  It’s very cool to see these characters in a new medium, and having them interact with greater detail than they can in a 4 box comic strip!  So far, our loyal readers approve.

Q) Very cool! From Christmas to any other celebration, what’s been your favorite to ink?

A) It’s hard to pick a favorite subject that I’ve drawn.  I love to draw Wally the Wallywiener dog, Ralph playing golf, Oogie the cat, Ralph as a mall cop and now a TSA screener, Norman and his nerdy college friends, and many others.  I like drawing Halloween strips too.  Pumpkins and costumes are fun.  One year I got a call from Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, who told me that the strip I’d drawn for that day was the best Halloween strip he’d ever seen.  That was unquestionably the highlight of my career!

Q) You share on your site that the history behind creating Ralph Drabble is a combination: you, when you were young, and your father. Now that you’ve been publishing almost nonstop for, eh hem, decades, has Ralph changed, and do you view him differently?

OogieA)  On the Drabble.com site, I share a little history.  I was offered a syndicate contract when I was only 21, not even out of college yet.  When Drabble began, I related mostly with Norman, the clumsy college kid who can’t get a date.  It was pretty autobiographical!  As the years went on and I had a family of my own, I started relating more to Ralph.  Now my own sons are in college and they continue to give me a lot of material to work with.  It’s fun to blog about those stories on the Drabble.com site.  People are fascinated by where ideas for strips and story lines come from.  So many come from real life.  My wife is nothing like Honeybunch, though!

Q) Important to set that record straight, glad I could help! When you look back, who would you say had the most impact on your career?

A) When I was a kid, I enjoyed the work of Don Martin in Mad Magazine.  I also
Bob loved Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace and Johnny Hart’s BC.  Herman, by Jim Unger, never failed to crack me up.  But Schulz had the greatest impact on my career.  I grew up reading Peanuts and getting lost in his world.  As luck would have it, we actually did spend a lot of time together at his studio and his ice rink in Santa Rosa, CA.  We talked about everything.   “Sparky”, as he was known to everyone who knew him, really enjoyed talking about politics, religion, and life.  Most people, including myself, were hesitant to argue with him about anything because, after all, he was Charles M. Schulz! My wife, however, is a real people person and never holds back her opinions.  Sparky loved talking to her because she challenged him.  He really enjoyed being challenged.  

RalphQ) Last question, Kevin, which character have you enjoyed illustrating the most and why, also who do your fans say they want more of, and can you give us a teaser for your upcoming strips?

A) It’s hard to say which character I’ve enjoyed drawing most.  Ralph is so rich.  He’s a good husband and father and a good guy.  A lot of men relate to him. He was the first “mall cop”, you know.  I can’t say for sure, but I think the term may have originated in Drabble.  I had no idea what to call him, “Retail security guard” wasn’t very funny. “Mall cop” sounded funny.  I enjoy the expressions Ralph makes, and I enjoy all of his personality quirks.  Lately, I’ve really enjoyed drawing Wally the wiener dog.  I like the way he looks when he’s running, with his feet going really fast and his ears flying all over the place.  It’s really fun to watch Wally come to life on the blank sheet of paper. Bob the duck is a lot of fun to draw, sitting up on his perch pretending to be a rare, south American parrot.  I really should use him more just because I like to draw him! Penny, the little sister, is also fun to draw and write for. 

Honeybunch

I always get a big reader reaction when I do a story line with Norman and Echo.  Echo is a girl from college who Norman has been spending time with.  She is a female version of him.  She seems to like Norman, as opposed to his last love-interest Wendy who didn’t seem too crazy about him!  Not sure where this relationship is headed yet, but my readers really want them to stay together.  By far, the character in Drabble who gets the most reaction is Wally the wiener dog.  In this age of Facebook and e-mail and twitter, I hear from my readers every day.  Wally seems to bring a lot of happiness to people.  That’s why he is featured so much in “A Drabble Family Christmas Tale”, and why I promised my readers a lot more Wally in the Drabble comic strip after the first of the year.

Drabble FamilyCan’t wait to see more, Kevin, thanks so much for joining me here!

Purchase A Drabble Family Christmas Tale

Find Kevin at his Website, Blog and on  Twitter.

 

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Spotlight: Artist, Poet and Short Story Author Leon A. Walker

Leon WalkerLeon A. Walker writes various forms of creative literature, and collaborates with artists and photographers worldwide on a variety of artistic images.  He is a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and has worked in both the public and private sector, plus he is a retired Officer in the United States Navy.  Leon has two published collections of poetry and short stories, the first, “Work Wonders” became available in 2009 and the second, “Life Lines” released in 2011.  A third collection, entitled “Equinox” will be available soon.

Q) I know you for your poetry, but you’ve written short story collections, too. Share the difference in your writing styles and how your voice has developed with these projects.

A) My first book, “Work Wonders” can best be described as an artistic memoir. I did not consider that I actually wrote this book in the traditional sense.  First, because I did not initially set out to develop or present an organized collection of poetry and short stories.  Secondly, because the purpose for writing all of the verse in this book was intensely personal to me and primarily, they were only intended to be preserved and later shared with my children and those closest to me in life. 

Therefore, I do not consider this a simple collection.  It is my way of describing transitions, life lessons, and a vast array of thoughts and reflections that shaped a son, a father, a brother, and a friend.  The stories, poems, and quotes in this volume are in large part the story of a man’s cognitive and emotional life.  At the end of the day, I realized that if making a gift of these works was that important to me, I might be able to accomplish some measure of good by sharing it more broadly.  

It is a decision with which I am now very pleased. And I sincerely hope that those who take time to read this work will find it very enjoyable and perhaps even helpful or insightful on some level.  “Work Wonders” is a glimpse into the far reaches of the heart and mind.  

Work Wonders by Leon Walker

Although it is creative in its presentation, it is a candid story of one man’s life.  Yet, it is also no less a story about life in general.  A story—in specific parts—that any number of us will be able to fully appreciate and identify with.  Rest assured, you will encounter a portion of your life’s story in this book.

The second book, “Life Lines” is the result of my continu

ing drive and desire to provoke thought in readers.  I seek to do so by providing works that are creative in presentation and also intellectually and emotionally stimulating.  My primary focus has been to share insights into my personal thoughts and opinions, but over time, I have been pleased to discover that readers are often compelled to examine my stated views from alternative vantage points.  

I am hopeful that my writings continue to inspire rational and welcoming platforms for further discussions or perhaps new motivations to broader considerations.  I have long been troubled by what I perceive to be a limited effort to elevate literacy or to cultivate critical thought in far too many social quarters.  I believe that more writings and other 

options should be presented which enhance the availability and appeal of literature of any variety, and this book represents my effort to make a positive contribution to that undertaking.  

“Life Lines” is one man’s attempt to seize upon an opportunity to provide constructive insights and thought provoking subject matter in an enjoyable and creative literary form.  I frequently present candid views of both my learning and many life experiences, and I hope and believe this may encourage readers to embark on similar reflections. “Life Lines” will guide you into areas of thought and emotion that may range from extremely pleasurable to perhaps somewhat disquieting.  

There are no forbidden topics in this book, and as a result, you may realize some measure of learning or gain new perspectives on varying views of life.  “Life Lines” is a beautifully crafted work of compelling and creative literature.

At the outset, as I wrote, I found myself collecting and sharing my inner most thoughts and emotions in creative verse; and I began doing so primarily with my children in mind.  So that they might have a true impression of who their father is intellectually, culturally and emotionally.  

I wanted to record things about me and my life that they could always have, and which perhaps I had not directly shared or clearly communicated to them.  For some reason I was intensely driven to do that for my children and my family members.  This is where my poetic writings initially seemed to flow from.  And because these poetic endeavors are very emotionally charged, I wanted them to flow in a classic style that was both a reminder of the classics that I so loved and also a lesson in literature for them.  

So the stylistic difference between the way I develop poetry and prose, versus the many short stories I have written is very dramatic.  In writing short-stories, I am aware of the need to provide an emotional signature but my focus is to draw the reader into an event which is in some way a reminder of a familiar event in their existence; or a lesson in living that is interesting or appealing even if it is vastly different from anything that they have ever experienced.  I want readers to not only read the story, but rather to re-live it with me as the storyteller. 

Q) That’s truly important. As a storyteller, when you look back, who would you credit as your inspiration, how important was it for you to put pen to paper, and what advice would you offer other writers?

A) I have appreciated books all of my life, both as a form of enjoyment and also as a collector.  No doubt some of this was instilled by my father, who possessed a deep appreciation for literature and who from my earliest memories, read and regularly quoted everything from Chaucer and Kipling to Hughes and Baldwin to me and my siblings. I found myself reading and writing for entertainment purposes from a very young age. 

 Later I began to dabble in poetry and continued to write creatively on and off for years but never shared any of those works. Many were not preserved and are now lost.  Since I traveled extensively before the advent of wireless email and cellular phones, and it was my mother who frequently commented on the creative and unusually descriptive nature of my letters.  Over a long and varied professional career, I was also compelled to write a great deal on a broad cross-section of topics.  

What very few actually knew, was that I tremendously enjoyed writing.  Nor did they know of the passion I felt when creating written works.  It should be no surprise then that I had intended to write a book for many years.  “Work Wonders” and “Life Lines” simply presented the first publishing opportunities because I had so much completed material on hand.  My next project——entitled “Equinox”, will available in early in 2013.

Life Lines by Leon WalkerFor me, writing has always been all about really touching people with a lasting memory. I began developing the ability to reach people with words when I was very young. I am convinced that this all stemmed from my love for books and reading as a child. For reasons that remain inexplicable to me (even today) I had a propensity for becoming fully absorbed in stories and characters.

When I began to write, I found it a necessary aspect of style to draw people in. To provide them with both a clear vision as well as a personal emotional experience. From as far back as primary school, I still recall that I looked forward to written assignments, like writing book reports, because I felt I could say things in written form in a way that was convincing and even attractive. I had that presence of mind even then. What I have become today as a writer is certainly no quantum leap.

In developing a story, I feel that the reader must be able to experience the event that I describe, almost as if it were in real time. As it relates to my inspiration or motivations, there will frequently be a powerful emotional message or lesson tied to the events I write about that, hopefully, create a lasting impact. It may be a happy or a sad response that I seek to achieve, but the writing must include that powerful emotional signature which elicits an appropriate emotional reaction. I call this writing with purpose. That purpose being to provide a glimpse of life through words, in a way that is filled with lessons and emotions that are as powerful as the concept of life itself.

In my style of writing, the telling of a story almost always requires a significant amount of personal emotional daring. I believe that, in order to provide a clear snapshot into my own reflections, the feelings that are at the core of the experience which I am attempting to describe must shine through. By habit, I find a way to approach most writings emotionally unconstrained.

If, in a particular story’s setting, I was happy or confused or heartbroken, I have to find the words to clearly convey to readers exactly what those emotions felt like. And this must be done within the context of a story in a way that justifies such emotions. So, in my view as the storyteller, I am obligated to provide a fearless and truthful impression of the emotions that were present.

This sort of personal emotional daring can be daunting or perhaps even frightening to a writer. It is a very powerful tool when you find the courage to let your inner-most feelings be known. Think of it like a scene from a movie. There are the actual visual effects, and then there are the words. Often, it is also a musical score that provides the most emotionally compelling impact. In my writing, the words must create the scene; but they must also create the emotional music. And I am acutely focused on this as I write and as I edit my work.

My advice? Tell your stories, and do so beautifully and fearlessly, letting your soul flow through your pen. If you can find the courage to do that, and also to truthfully assess and appreciate what you have created, then you can call yourself a writer.

Q) Pairing courage with truthful assessment, a very good point Leon. Say someone believes he has a story to share, and comes asking your advice, what would you tell them about your publication path, your discovery of how your writing impacts readers, and how much of a learning curve, if any, you’ve experienced with each book release?

A) When I began, before the advent of email and the internet, I found myself traveling to Europe and Asia quite extensively (during my military service). During those years, it became a minor obsession of mine to write long letters home to my parents. I wrote to them with the hope that I might somehow make them see, or in some small way understand, the excitement and fascination that I was experiencing in my travels (writing with purpose).

Although I did not realize it at the time, those letters were an exercise in writing that helped hone my skills. The message here being (like anything else) practice is essential. It was some time later that my mother told me how much she and my father had looked forward to those letters; and she also made a point of telling me that she shared them with friends and family. But, more importantly, she told me that I had a talent for writing that I should consider exploring. It was at that point that I did two things.

First, I began to dabble in poetry and short stories, and second, I began to pay close attention to everything I wrote. Even if it were only a note or a birthday card; absolutely everything I wrote, I wanted to be appropriate, but with a unique or special wit or flare. I wanted it to be appreciated (writing with purpose).

Later in life, like many of us, I experienced my share of trying times. And during those times, I began to record stories and poems about the events themselves, and the emotions that I experienced. I can certainly say that there was a personal catharsis woven in this exercise; but I also wanted to record this period of time and preserve it as a season of learning.

My initial intention had been to simply preserve these writings and perhaps, at some point, share them with my children and family members so that they might have a true impression of all that my life had been (writing with purpose). The written works from these trying times became the basis for my first book.

I have had many things published and recognized via traditional means.  However, I have opted to self-publish my first two books for several reasons. Let me say from the outset, that self-publishing can -and probably will- require a substantial financial commitment on the front end. 

The benefits I have received in professional copy-editing, copyrighting, Leon Walker  registration with the Library of Congress and having the books made available in all formats (hardbound, paperback and eBook) made it a very worthwhile investment.  Additionally, you have broad input into all aspects of the book layout and design (including the cover).  Finally, self-publishing provides the author with total control over their work and the associated distribution and royalties.

It is important to note that the self-publishing process is a daunting undertaking…There will be many hours spent on organizing your book in a way that presents the most professional and compelling presentation.  

Be ready to put in the same amount of energy preparing and organizing your book as you committed to writing it.  It is slightly easier after the first book because you understand the process; but the workload does not diminish with each succeeding book release.

Your story is inspirational, Leon, and I believe will spark many to pick up their pen, composing stories of their own. Thanks so much for joining me today! I look forward to your third collection, “Equinox.”

Sample Leon A. Walker’s books at his Website

and find him on Redbubble – Collaborative Art,   Twitter,

Pinterest,   LinkedIn,   and   Facebook.

Spotlight: Humorist Barry Parham

In the Spotlight today: Barry Parham, the award-winning author of humor columns, essays and short stories. He is a recovering software freelancer and a music fanatic. A busy man, he’s published five books, the fifth released in April, contributed to My Funny Major Medical  which came out October 24th, and Open Doors: Fractured Fairy Tales available now (December 1).

Just announced: 
sing a song, write a review, help out this anthology, won’t you?
free download tomorrow with strings: please be kind enough to go back there to post your thoughts:)
get your copy My Funny Major Medical here …

Q) Full Frontal Stupidity , a collection of your columns, is book five for you, Barry. From where do your humorous topics develop, and how long does a piece take to complete?

A) Actually, I never intended to write books. I always wanted to write a weekly humor column that eventually would grow up, move out, and go live with many newspapers. Unfortunately, I picked the worst time in about three decades to try and get newspapers to spend money they didn’t have to spend.

To that end, in early 2009, I took on the self-inflicted hobby of writing a minimum of 625 words, every week, and submitting the column to various dailies. I was extremely successful, unless you’re one of those purists who define “extremely successful” as “published.”

Then, somewhere along the way, I read that enclosing a book along with one’s pitch to editors might help generate a little more interest. So, in September 2009, I built and published my first book, Why I Hate Straws. And to my very grateful surprise, people started buying the book. (though it didn’t budge the ‘newspaper excite-o-meter’ needle in the least…)

And now, nearly four years later, I’m still writing at least a column a week (which, effectively, is a book chapter a week), and every so often I’ll gather up the syllables and lob another collection at the public, with hopes that one of the columns, one day, will carom into the lap of an editor out there who’s one humor column shy.

Q) Your writing style is admittedly a take-no-prisoners one: what do you mean by that, and are there any topics you would not tackle, or some you wish you hadn’t?

A) I’ve always tried to live by two simple rules: never intentionally hurt anybody, and always call a jerk, a jerk. (You don’t have to analyze that philosophy very long to discover its gaping flaws…)

So I’ll write about nearly any topic that one group or another considers sacrosanct. Some events, traditions, and interactions, in and of themselves, can be horrible, but people’s responses to them can be hilarious.

Politics, of course, is almost too easy — but we’ve lately gotten so defensive about our politics that a writer risks losing half her/his audience simply by pointing out that dedicating a ‘Clinton Bedroom’ in the White House would be redundant, or mentioning that ‘Orrin Hatch’ sounds like a debilitating dental condition. (did I say that out loud?)

Are there topics I wouldn’t touch? Absolutely. I don’t write about private citizens, by name. I don’t carve columns out of people’s physical problems, intentional violence, racism, or vulgarity simply for the sake of being vulgar. But then, as a humorist, that’s an easy decision for me, because I don’t find such things funny in the first place.

Q) Give us a run-down of your four other works, how they’re different yet unique to your writing style, and reveal what’s next in the pipeline for you.

A) We’ve touched on my first collection (Why I Hate Straws), and my latest (Full Frontal Stupidity). The middle three children’s names are:

Sorry, We Can’t Use Funny

Blush: Politics and other unnatural acts

The Middle-Age of Aquarius

Although Blush represented a conscious (and partly successful) attempt to stick to a single theme, all five collections are broad, rather than deep (oh, count on it).The Middle-Age of Aquarius contains more than a few essays related to growing old, occasionally gracefully. And then there’s this insider tidbit for your readers: Sorry, We Can’t Use Funny was the actual text of a rejection letter I received from one newspaper editor.

As it turns out, not being bound to newspaper-column guidelines has allowed me a flexibility – to write longer pieces, to create some recurring characters, places, and situations, things like that. And increased exposure, such as your ‘Spotlight’ series, has helped land some of my stuff in three national humor anthologies.

What’s next? Hopefully, each collection has gotten a bit better…a touch smarter…a smile funnier. I’m very proud of my ‘kids.’ And thanks, Roxie, for letting me show them off a bit.

My pleasure, Barry, thanks for hanging out with us!

Discover more about Barry’s Books

Find Barry on his Blog      Facebook      Twitter

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Spotlight: Children’s Author Leigh Anne Hoover

Leigh Anne W. Hoover is the author of The Santa Train Tradition and Festus and His Fun Fest Favorites, and is a native of South Carolina and a graduate of Clemson University. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in secondary education/English and a minor in general communications, Leigh Anne has worked for over 25 years in the media, has extensive writing and public relations experience in the region, and has published articles encompassing personality and home profiles, arts and entertainment reviews, medical topics, and weekend escape pieces.

Before we dive into the Q and A, let me share with you what others are saying about Leigh Anne’s work:

“It is so important to bring accurate facts and details to light in an amusing, poignant manner to inspire children’s creative minds. Leigh Anne Hoover does both in The Santa Train Tradition as she describes an actual event in her community. Leigh Anne is as warm and engaging as her books.”

 –Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author for adults and children

“I believe strongly that one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a love of reading. Leigh Anne Hoover’s children’s books incorporate historical fiction to exemplify how community bonds can also connect children to actual events and tie them to literacy. Reading aloud instills this while also creating special one-on-one time with your child.” 

 –Nancy Samalin, MS, Parent Guidance Workshops parenting speaker, author, and pioneer in the field of parent education

Q) Leigh Anne, tell us about the inspiration for you book, The Santa Train Tradition, why you wanted to capture the story in a children’s work, and how much history is behind this amazing event.

A) Since 1943, the Santa Train has been winding its way through the mountains of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee, distributing over 15 tons of donated gifts, toys, candies, and clothing from individuals and organizations across the United States. This year marked the 70th running of the Santa Special.

Beginning in Shelby, Kentucky, the Santa Train travels 110 miles making 13 stops in route to its final destination in Kingsport, Tennessee, for the annual Christmas parade. Some stops are in small train stations in places with comical names like “Toms Bottom.”

The Santa Train originated as a way for Kingsport, Tennessee, to thank the surrounding region for their continued patronage. As a shared program of the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce, CSX Transportation, Inc., Food City, and Dignity U Wear, gifts are collected throughout the year, and the train always runs on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Many heard of the Santa Train through an “On the Road” segment with the late Charles Kuralt.  The train has been featured in numerous other television specials, articles, and even on the front page of the New York Times, which prompted gifts and donations from all over the world.

Since then, many country music stars, including Patty Loveless, Alison Krauss, Travis Tritt, Kathy Mattea, and Naomi and Wynonna Judd, and Thompson Square have been celebrity guests on the Santa Train.

Several years ago, I was able to ride the Santa Train as a journalist. I was writing an article for US Airways Magazine, but it was only about the facts.  When I got off the Santa Train, I talked to the people. I spoke with grandparents who remembered coming to the Santa Train when they were children and parents who were now bringing their children. These were the “real stories” of the train, and I knew then that what I had learned would be much more than just an article.  I just didn’t know what…

Q) Remarkable! These real stories impacted you in a pretty profound way. Share how you began to create the book, what your expectations were when you first began this project, and how the process unfolded, including any stumbling blocks or miraculous moments.

A) Along with the facts, I knew that the people’s story had to be told.  So, I incorporated an imaginary family that could be representative of what I had heard and what was shared with me. From there, I wove the facts in as a journalist for accuracy.

I searched local publishers and thought that I would end up with one that had done some regional books that included children’s literature.  During this process, I stumbled upon the person who would become my artist.

Carol Bates Murray is from Marion, Virginia, and The Santa Train Tradition is actually her eighth published children’s book.  Carol does everything the old fashioned way.  Each page is an individual watercolor painting, and when I am in schools, I share some of the actual pages with the children.  Before we even read the first word, children tell me how a particular original painting makes them feel. In sharing the paintings, this also connects them to another art form and truly depicts the job of an illustrator.

Other than connecting to reading, the most important goal for me was for this little book to also give back— just like the Santa Train.  So, we approached our regional grocery store chain, Food City, which also happens to sponsor the Santa Train, about partnering. For the first three years, the hardback book was sold exclusively in their stores along the train route throughout the holidays.

My hope was that a donation could be made to the Santa Train Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a graduating high school senior along the route. I never imagined that 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the $11.99 hardback book would be donated by Food City Grocery. To date, this amount is over $10,000, and the sale of the book also benefits the Literacy Council of Kingsport.

Q) Above and beyond your hopes, that’s awesome, Leigh Anne! I want to shift a bit to another topic. You began writing this piece as an article, yet it became a stand-alone book. When you consider your publishing experience both with this book and your second one, Festus and His Fun Fest Favorites, what advice would you offer to other writers, and what suggestions would you make about marketing books?

A) Many are familiar with the beautiful children’s book Silver Packages by the very prolific writer, Cynthia Rylant. It’s about a train that runs through the Appalachian Mountains each year with a rich old man dressed in a green blazer who gives out packages wrapped in silver.  The book is actually loosely based on our Santa Train, yet I never knew about this book.

The text does not mention the Santa Train or CSX Transportation because both are actually protected with a copyright. If had known about this little book, I would have never attempted mine. I would have assumed that if Cynthia Rylant had not written about the actual Santa Train, there would be no way that I could!

However, I prayerfully forged ahead with the endeavor. CSX not only required seeing the manuscript before agreeing, but they also had to approve the illustrations. Once I found myself working with the CSX legal department, we hired an attorney just to make sure that everything was handled correctly.

I have been taking my program into schools.  In addition to sharing my little book, I talk to the children about the history of the Santa Train, and we also talk about how many volunteers help pack the train and the actual sponsors of the Santa Train. The book has been an excellent way to connect children to research based, factual information and to share volunteerism and literacy.

In 2010, I was honored to be a presenter at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) Conference, and my program was titled, “Connecting to the Community through Literacy.”

My second children’s book, Festus and His Fun Fest Favorites, celebrates an over 30-year summer tradition in Kingsport, Tennessee, and the story is told through the eyes of the festival mascot, Festus. Festus takes readers through a week of Fun Fest and looks at events both past and present.

With this little book, Food City partnered again on a smaller scale, and proceeds have benefitted Fun Fest, which is a program of the Kingsport Chamber Foundation, and also the Literacy Council of Kingsport (LCK). In fact, the book won a regional public relations Pinnacle award and two International Festivals & Events Association Pinnacle Awards.

I serve as a past president of LCK, and I am also an adult volunteer tutor.  I know firsthand that one of our adult students was able to “pretend read” my book to his child, and this connected them in a way that they had never experienced together in the past.

In fact, I am currently writing my third book, Reading with Ralph – A Journey in Christian Compassion, which is an adult book that sheds light on illiteracy. As you know, Roxie, the key is connecting. There are many “keys” that we can use to open the literacy door. However, we need to be mindful of which one will open it for our communities, our adults, and our children.

It’s important to also become a marketing professional and utilize every avenue, including local television and radio talk shows and various available speaking engagements, to tout your book and talk about your passion.

For me, partnering with a regional grocery store chain, and making sure that a portion of the proceeds could benefit education/literacy, was the perfect marketing opportunity. It truly created something that others could identify with and feel passionate about.

As writers, together, we are all connecting to reading. When we are also passionate, we are truly creating a lasting literacy legacy!

You are so right, Leigh Anne! You are an inspiration, and your suggestions to connect writing with education and literacy are spot-on. Thanks for sharing this wonderful project and your time with us.

Purchase Leigh Anne’s Books at

Word of Mouth Press   or   The Santa Train Tradition

The Santa Train runs on the Saturday before Thanksgiving…view a video of November 17, 2012 trip:

more footage…

More about Leigh Anne Hoover: She’s done extensive features including one-on-one interviews with actress Andie MacDowell, artists Bob Timberlake and P. Buckley Moss, author Jan Karon, Grammy-winner, singer/songwriter Kenny Loggins, and Clemson University President James F. Barker. Hoover currently serves on the Clemson University Parents’ Development Board and the Literacy Council of Kingsport and Friends of Allandale board of directors. She is also a past president of the Literacy Council of Kingsport, the Junior League of Kingsport and past co-chair of the Clemson University Parents’ Development Board. Hoover is a member of First Broad Street United Methodist Church, and she volunteers as an adult reading tutor. She and her husband, Brad, reside in Kingsport, and they have two adult children.

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Spotlight: Writer Doug Simpson

Doug Simpson is a retired high school teacher who has turned his talents to writing. His first novel, a spiritual mystery titled Soul Awakening, was published in the United States in October of 2011, by Book Locker. It was reissued in October of 2012 by 5 Prince Publishing as Soul Awakening, Book I of the Dacque Chronicles. Soul Rescue, Book II of the Dacque Chronicles will be published in November of 2012. His magazine and website articles, published in 2010 to 2012, span the globe: Australia, Canada, France, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Q) Welcome, Doug! Your first novel, Soul Awakening, is a work of fiction. Yet you base some of the writing on the life of Edgar Cayce, who many have defined as a mystic. How would you describe Soul Awakening, and how did the book develop?

A) About forty years ago my wife introduced me to Edgar Cayce and the first biography about him called There is a River, written by Thomas Sugrue. I was hooked!

Because this part of his story is actually my story, here is an excerpt from Chapter 10 of Soul Awakening where protagonist Dacque LaRose explains Edgar Cayce to his new protégée, Dani Christian.

“Edgar Cayce was born in rural Kentucky, but in his middle years was guided to settle in a coastal fishing village in Virginia, called Virginia Beach. Over his lifetime, he gave more than fifteen thousand psychic readings in a self-induced, coma-like, trance state. Copies of over fourteen thousand of these readings have been preserved in the archives of his Association for Research and Enlightenment, or A.R.E. About ten thousand of these readings were medical readings, where in his unconscious state he was able to diagnose problems that medical doctors in those days could not locate or identify, and even prescribed medical procedures and medicines that had not yet been invented.

The next largest group of readings was reincarnation or past life readings, some 2500 readings for about 2000 different individuals. Edgar Cayce was a very religious person, as well as a Sunday School teacher, and was personally disturbed when the first reading implying reincarnation surfaced. A careful search of the Scriptures convinced him that there was actually nothing in the Bible that contradicted the notion of reincarnation, and in fact, a number of verses that pretty-much, if read with an open mind, implied that reincarnation existed.  Convinced that reincarnation was at least possible, Edgar and a group of friends commenced a series of readings seeking an explanation of this unknown world that many people today still do not believe exists. This initial investigation, over many decades, led to an enormous number of readings that revealed previous incarnations back to Atlantis and Adam, and to Creation.”

After I retired as a high school teacher I discovered that I had time on my hands and I undertook some serious research into the life or reincarnation readings in the Edgar Cayce files. I had always wanted to write a book, and after studying Edgar’s reincarnation readings for quite a while I knew there was a book in there somewhere. Some of the wind was quickly taken out of my sails when I discovered that there were already over 300 books, including more than 30 biographies, written about Edgar Cayce and his marvelous revelations. That’s pretty tough competition. I eventually came up with the idea that I should take a crack at writing fictional stories using the knowledge I acquired through my research about the survival of souls and spirits after the death of bodies, and the reincarnation of souls. I could then reintroduce a group of new readers to the legendary American mystic, Edgar Cayce. And that is where and when the seeds of Soul Awakening were planted. Soul Awakening and its characters are all fictional, but the events that take place throughout the story have occurred to real people.

 

Q) Interesting process, lots of research on your part, hours and hours to yield fascinating fiction! Switching to your news and other writings, which are considerable, do you see additional novels coming? What are your works-in-progress and what does your creative space look like?

A) Soul Awakening was first published in October of 2011 by Booklocker. After I completed Soul Awakening, I continued to write a second and then third somewhat similar novel with Dacque LaRose and Dani Christian as principle characters but incorporating new adventures and additional characters. About two months ago I had book II ready to send to Booklocker when a Facebook friend, just like you, Roxie, introduced me to 5 Prince Publishing. They asked to see some of my work and they liked it. They offered me a four book contract that I simply could not turn down. Soul Awakening, Book I of the Dacque Chronicles was just published by 5 Prince Publishing on October 11, 2012 as an eBook and the print edition is scheduled for release on October 25, 2012. Soul Rescue, Book II of the Dacque Chronicles is scheduled for release in November of 2012. Soul Mind, Book III of the Dacque Chronicles is scheduled for release in January of 2013.  I am working diligently on book four.

My creative space is nothing special. I have my computer desk and a large bookcase of reference material. The room also serves as my television room. I love to watch hockey games, but they are not high on my wife’s priority list so she has a second television in the family room. We babysit the grandchildren a fair bit, especially in the summer when school is out, so they take over my television and computer room and I get the boot. That is okay with us as we consider ourselves privileged to have the opportunity to spend so much time with our grandchildren. We truly are family.

Q) Family is important; sounds like your priorities are in the right place. Doug, if you could sum up the writing experience to someone just beginning to compose a first novel, what would you say, and what advice would you offer? How or what steps should a newbie take to follow the passion of the pen?

A) I am not going to try to give advice on the craft of writing because I still consider myself a beginning writer and I am definitely an unorthodox writer. Instead I will restrict my comments to courage and determination.

For forty years I tried to write novels. Some were abandoned, but a few were completed. Unfortunately, the completed ones contained major flaws which were basically impossible to rectify so they ended up in the junk heap. It took me forty years, off and on, to come up with a manuscript that a publisher considered worth publishing. So, beginners, if you have faith in yourself and your manuscript, never ever give up. You can learn to be a better writer. Practice may not make you perfect but it sure makes you better.

The one big secret for me, as far as I am concerned anyway, and I highly recommend it, is to write about what you know about not what you consider exciting. I learned a lot about souls, spirits and reincarnation, and writing about those subjects made writing my novels rather easy.

Thanks Doug! Congrats and good luck with your new venture at 5 Prince Publishing, what an inspiration for us all! See more details about Doug’s Dacque Chronicles Series at 5 Prince Publishing, available in print and eBook format through most book stores around the world. His articles can be accessed through his website.

Interested in reading more Spotlights?

 

Spotlight: Writer Roger Pinckney

Roger Pinckney lives on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, one of the last free and wild barrier islands, where he writes and works diligently to preserve land and culture. He graduated from the University of South Carolina and earned an MFA through the Iowa Writers Workshop. His novel, Little Glory, has been purchased by a Hollywood independent film maker.  He is a two-time winner of the SC Fiction Project and the Orion Writer’s Circle Award.

Q) Some of your books take on a David and Goliath feel: traditional small town folks coming up against big government, however they are individually unique. Tell us about each one: The Beaufort Chronicles, Blue Roots, The Right Side of the River, Signs and Wonders, Little Glory, Seventh Son, and Reefer Moon, plus give us a peek at your latest, Blow the Man Down, releasing this week.

A) Little David was the inventor of rock and roll.  He took a rock and rolled a giant.

My first book was The Beaufort Chronicles, photos and narrative about the Beaufort SC Historic District.   My childhood friend, Beekman Webb, was an historic preservation contractor and he published the book as a way to show off his work.  It sold several thousand copies and made a little money.  Long out of print, used copies fetch a healthy sum online.

My daddy was county coroner when I was growing up and his good friend, Ed McTeer, was sheriff.  McTeer was a witchdoctor, The White Prince, who used voodoo to enforce the law.  Daddy saw many people killed by black magic and wrote the code “dead of undetermined natural causes” on the death certificates.  Growing up in a community where such magic was afoot led me to document it in Blue Roots.  I thought the magic was fading away and I wanted to get it all down before the last of the true believers passed.  I was a damn fool.  It ain’t passing, it’s stronger than ever.  Blue Roots sold nearly 50,000 copies, perhaps half of them stolen from their owners.  I like to think it is the most stolen book in American literary history. 

Just after Christmas, 1998, I moved to Daufuskie Island and chronicled the rather unusual lifestyle here in The Right Side of the River, which is what locals call this place, inferring that entire North American continent is “the wrong side.” It ran through 6,000 hardbacks and now is still selling well in trade paper/print on demand.  People tell me it’s my best written work.  Sometimes I agree.  This is the David and Goliath theme you picked up.  We went after Halliburton and Club Corp and won 2 out of the three fights.  The one we lost, the developer dropped stone dead, his building is falling down and subject to lawsuits so maybe we didn’t lose that one after all.

I fictionalized the witchdoctor sheriff in my novel, Little Glory, which has been optioned by a Hollywood indie.  It was much fun to write and from the first word “Jesus” to the last word “Jesus” took me just 13 weeks.  In between the two Jesuses there is murder, witchcraft, a war, a riot, a provocative bathtub masturbation scene (with a kid looking in the window) sundry fornications.  Little Glory has been criticized for my generous use of the “n-word” but that was the way many people—black and white—talked in the 1940’s.  Now when the sheriff picks up the newspaper to read the war news on June 12, 1943, I researched and knew exactly what he would have been reading.  So why should I be any less accurate with the language?

Next I collected some of my best magazine pieces into the collection, Signs and Wonders, which caused one reviewer to gush, “Roger Pinckney’s interactions with creatures of the wild—fur, feather, and human—provide fascinating reading for lovers of the outdoor world and students of human nature.”  My essay, “Burying Miss Louise,” is a little gem.

I followed Signs with another collection, Seventh Son on Sacred Ground, which, apart from the stunning cover art, is likely my least favorite book.  While it contains some really good work, like “When the Fish Crow Called My Name,” all of it does not rise to the standard of the best.

Reefer Moon, is my second novel and most recent book.  It too has been optioned for film.  While I call it fiction, this smuggler’s love story actually happened, though not necessarily to the same people and not necessarily in the order portrayed.  And of course, when you write about such stuff, it is advisable to change names to protect the guilty.  Reefer Moon is fast becoming a cult classic among “Reefer Moonies,” hardcore Lowcountry folks.  We got a music CD by Wendell Matthews, a talented singer/songwriter, Reefer Moon caps, tees, drinking glasses and even Reefer Moon rolling papers.

Q) Which is your crowning jewel, which one would you never write again, and why.

A) Rox, honey, I don’t think I’d ever want to write any of em again.  But I do wish I would have waited another year to get all of Seventh Son as good as the best. 

My newest, a sex and cocaine novel, Blow the Man Down, is technically my best, it’s fast, clean, mean.  I’m very proud of it.

Teaser for Blow the Man Down: “Grayson Devoe is plagued by ghosts. He’s a treasure diver from Folly Beach, South Carolina, a honky-tonk town that lives up to its name. The wreck of a Spanish ship lies somewhere just beyond the breakers, and Grayson aims to find it.  But his business partner has other ideas and sends Carmela Morales, a beautiful young cutthroat, to make sure Grayson follows orders.”

Blow the Man Down releases October 14 from Evening Post Books.

Q) You’re a native South Carolinian, yet I read that you lived in Minnesota as a stop on your way to Alaska, and eventually gave up traveling to the extreme northern territory. What compelled your exodus, why migrate back, and why drift to Daufuskie Island?

A) I’m one seriously native South Carolinian, family here since 1697.  Not only a native, but a fifth generation waterman.

I wrote a deer hunting story, “Things that Vanish” which won a fiction award at Carolina and an assistantship at the Iowa Writers Workshop.  After my MFA, I was accepted into the PhD program at UA, Fairbanks. Another assistantship, teaching freshman English.  Living on Folly Beach in the interim, I took off for Fairbanks in a truck old enough to vote.  The engine come un-crunked outside St Paul and when my mail finally caught up with me it seems there was some trouble with the legislature over my paycheck but “come on up and we’ll work something out.”  The Alcan was 1200 miles of gravel, the ferry was expensive and winter coming on.  I reckoned to winter over, save up and light out again in the spring.

But I run up on the blue eyed freckled thang at a new friend’s party.  I said, “Honey, are you Norwegian?”

“I’m half Norwegian.”

“Well, which half is Norwegian?” I asked.

 “The best half,” she smiled.

You can imagine how it went from there.

Those girls passed me around amongst themselves and it took me twenty-five years to bust loose.  And I remain Almost Dr. Pinckney to this day.

I came to Daufuskie in 1953 with my daddy, who had the contract to string power lines all the way cross 14 miles of river and marsh.  We boarded at Jolly Shores, dollar a meal and a dollar at night, and Daddy had a girlfriend just the other side of the cove.  I couldn’t live here once they closed the Little White School and there was always that problem on the far side of the cove, but I did spend some of the happiest days of my childhood here.  And the grand-daughters, and yea, the great-grand-daughters of the other side of the cove, still wink and wiggle when me meet at Marshsides. 

Towards the end of my Minnesota sojourn, I was doing a lot of commuting, spending months in the Lowcountry, then going up to the lake to write.  I would lodge with Beekman Webb, the same who published my first book.  Beekman had the restoration contract on First Union African Baptist and bought a house to lodge his crew.  A thousand a month, big money back then.  By then I’d had my quota of Norwegians and would have swapped any three of them for a pretty colored gal, which I almost got away with one time in New Orleans, but that’s a whole nuther story. 

I sold or gave away what I could not carry and headed south.  I reckon to leave feet first or in handcuffs.  They did handcuff me once, but I got loose (once again) and bummed a ride home from this county employee who took great sympathy in my plight.

Been a wild ride. 

Certainly has, thanks, Roger! Can’t wait for Sunday’s release of Blow the Man Down!

Find out more about Roger, purchase Blow the Man Down, or any of his other works….

Read more Spotlights…

Spotlight: Author Paul Drewfs

In the spotlight today, Paul Drewfs, scientist, artist and author. His new release, Transforming Spirits is available both in print and ebook. Paul enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and has experienced unusual opportunities, adding to his creative tool chest.

Q) You are a research scientist by training, how did you get from that point A to point B as a writer, and how would you describe your latest book, Transforming Spirits?

A) In truth, I started out as fine artist and graphic designer.   Four years of Ford Foundation scholarships put me through the Portland Museum Art School, and gained me a diploma.  Then, it was off to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and hob knob with internationally famous artists from around the World.  Early acclaim brought me to a gut wrenching cross roads.  Remain sequestered in a science and technology avoidant poverty prone closed subculture, or return to the real World and start over.  I chose the greater World, and my reputation as an artist popped the door open. 

Universities welcomed a young fast rising artist seeking an advanced degree.  I chose Florida State University, went to work as a graphic artist at the international Center for Educational Technology, and started working on a Master of Science Degree.  Long story short, just before I graduated from FSU, I was confronted by yet another mind boggling fork in the road.  Option one was to go to work for the US Department of the Navy as a Development Department Head of Instructional Technology in San Diego and work with Hollywood guild card level talent.  Option two was to travel to Caracas, Venezuela and become the Director of the Organization of American States (OAS) project to establish Centers of Technology in every country in South America.  For personal reasons, I chose the Navy and Hollywood, and became a US government civilian employee.

In 1975, Memphis State University enticed me back to school to work on a doctorate in educational research and statistics.  I took that opportunity.  There, my mentor and major professor and I started our own government contracting firm, Human Systems Integrated (HSI).  I became a business man scientist.  In 1978, what would ultimately become Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) bought our company.  They moved us to El Paso, gave me a job as a Research Scientist, and shares of what was then near worthless stock.  I’d finished all the course requirements for a doctorate, but decided to go with the flow and SAIC.

I took early retirement from SAIC in 2000.  The company had grown by then into a multi-billion dollar corporation.  I began working at once on my own research projects, and started learning to write fiction.  My research – some of which is defined in my published nonfiction books of 2007 and 2010 – fed my fiction books.  I didn’t formally publish my novels for the first twelve plus years; I knew I wasn’t ready.  This year all of that changed and Transforming Spirits was published as an Amazon eBook. The print version is about to be published this month.  Transforming Spirits is Volume 1 of a drafted ten volume series, titled the Blood Countess Chronicles.

Transforming Spirits in a nutshell goes like this: It’s midnight, Central Bohemia, Sunday October 31, 1571 – Eleven year old Princess Elizabeth of the Dominions of Loyalty is tincture-tainted and cast before a mirror.  Her mother, mother-in-law to be, and a three yard tall preternatural priest give her just six hours to save all transforming humanity, or four hundred and forty one years of her future selves.  Elizabeth is about to discover allies and secrets in the far distant future and past she could never have imagined, and the enemies to rival them.

Q) Intriguing, Paul! Switching to your routine as a writer, describe your work area, your typical writing day, and how you’ve been able to integrate marketing into your writing routine.

A) I would describe my work space as a server farm, toy barn, and organized mess.  I work from around 7:00 am to about 5:00 pm seven days a week, only stopping for dinner.  At night I sculpt from about 8:00 pm to about 11:30 pm.  As for marketing, I don’t.  For thirty three years I was an entrepreneur scientist and businessman mustering up a Type-A personality.  The intense marketing and sales dimension of that was a fulminating nightmare.  I was amazingly successful at it, and I hated every damned minute.  If I was going to play advertising account executive to make money, I would pick a product that makes real money, and it definitely wouldn’t be books.  I don’t write to make sales and revenues.  Writing is a necessary step in personal and collective human evolution.  In short, I write because all those guys and gals in my head needed a safe place to play.

Q) Speaking of play, if you could research and personally interview anyone from any time-period, who would they be and how would the interview sound?

A) That interview would be with the protagonist of my novels, Elizabeth Bathory, one of the most unjustly divested, deposed, and disparaged individuals in human history.  The interview would be conducted around the first of August of 1614.  It would take place through the slotted brick wall fronting her cell, in her own keep tower at Castle Cechtice in Central Bohemia (now the Czech Republic).  The interview topics would begin with her betrothal to Ferenc Nadasdy in 1571, and end with her arrest and conviction for six hundred counts of “Inhuman cruelty” (murder) by a false religious tribunal – as opposed to a proper civil, regional dominion, or imperial court.  Her betrothal and marriage of 1575 created the largest single land merger since Charlemagne.  That real-estate deal was the clever creation of the Countess Anna Dragfy Drugeth Bathory and the Baroness Orsolya Nadasdy of Kanizsa.  That marriage imposed a responsibility on Elizabeth’s shoulders, that makes today’s international CEOs look like anemic wimps.  The litany of events that led to Elizabeth’s downfall and death would ultimately result in war, famine, pestilence, and death on a scale the World had never seen.  In the end, it resulted in the loss of over half of the population of Europe, and jump-started the colonization of North America over a decade before the Plymouth colony.  Now, that is an interview I would very much like to conduct.

Amazing! Thanks for hanging out with us, Paul! When you write that interview or the next in your series, please come back for an update.

Purchase Transforming Spirits ebook  in print, and  read an excerpt.

Find out more about nonfiction works: Change; Described-Explained-Predicted and Waters of Creation and Reality here.

Connect with Paul on  Goodreads, Twitter or Facebook.

 More Spotlights…

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