Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Retirement: Beauty or Family?

I can't believe where the time has gone! I still feel like my husband and I are in our 30's but the truth is, we are way past that age. We are within 2-3 yrs of retirement.

Retirement is something we dream of all our lives! No more working. No one to boss us around except each other. Freedom to do exactly what we want! But the fact is, retirement is scary. Oh the no working part sounds wonderful but the fact that we won't have the same income we have coming in now, is frightening.  So is the fact that we are living the last quarter of our lives.

My husband and I have a big decision to make. Where to live? We are not from Louisiana, we just live here because of his job. I hate the summer weather down here so I'll be darned if I'm going to spend the last part of my life suffering in this heat!

We are both from the same town, Edgerton, Ohio. The winters are brutal up there, at least for my husband as he hates the snow and cold. But that's where most of his family still live.

My dream is to retire someplace beautiful. I've always wanted a home where I could look out my back window and see hills, water, or trees. The view from our last few houses have just been the tops of peoples roofs.

We've contemplated and made a few trips to Tennessee between Chattanooga and Knoxville areas to look for a place to retire and found a few areas we love. It's certainly beautiful there with all the scenery on my wish list. And it's at least 8 hrs. closer to his family and mine. However, for the umpteenth time in our lives, we'd have to start all over from scratch. With no family or friends around. We've been doing this for 35 yrs. now because of his job transfers. And it's gotten mighty old.

Our dilemma is, do we want to do it AGAIN!!?? Today, we are thinking not. It's on our minds that we should move closer to Edgerton. Maybe 1 hr. or so away. That way whenever there is a Stotz family event...we can actually attend. Plus we both have people in the area that we still consider good friends and would love getting together with them once in awhile. knew there would be a but didn't you? But, I would have to give up my dream of hills and probably water, plus the mild weather that Tennessee offers. Ohio and surrounding areas are as flat as Louisiana. Pretty farm country, but we aren't farm people. And my husband would have to deal with freezing to death.

So although we are excited for retirement, we are also soooooooooo confused!

I'm curious to see what some of you would do. Would you give up your dream of beautiful scenery and gorgeous mild weather or would you give that dream up to be nearer family and friends?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Staying Uphill

I have to face facts. I've been in a downhill funk with my writing for over a year now. My dad passed away February 2015 and ever since then, I've been finding it extremely hard to write. My whole 2015 felt like I was walking around in a tear filled fog that went by so quickly, I barely remember it.

All in all, I didn't do much writing last year but have regained my momentum, somewhat. However, for 2016 I am trying to spend my main focus on promoting the books that I have published versus concentrating so much on getting another manuscript accepted. This year, I have two more picture books coming out so I need to find more productive ways of promoting myself.

But it's a constant struggle. I am not a sales or marketing person so selling myself is extremely hard. I've been trying all that I know, but that isn't much. And it's not paying off very well. I've spent some money this year on advertising, but so far, that isn't paying off either.

I'm almost convinced that you have to be someone to sell a book. It's very disheartening since I'm a complete unknown nobody! Most of the people I know, which isn't many, have been sweet enough to support me but it's the ones that I don't know that I can't seem to reach. Being a writer is a constant uphill, downhill battle and the saying that "you really have to love it to do it" is absolutely spot on! I do love most things about this business and I worked extremely hard to get to where I'm at today, so I don't intend on ever giving up. I just need to find a formula that will work for me so I can climb the hill back up!

One of the biggest rewards in this business of writing for children for me is when I see a child who loves my books. When I'm at a book signing and a child comes up and loves the way my books look and their little face lights up when I tell them what it's about, is all the clarity I need to convince myself  this is my calling. I'm doing this for a reason! No matter how frustrating it gets.

Last week was a bad one for me. I was feeling defeated and depressed after working on my taxes. Well who doesn't, right? Anyway, it didn't last long because I received two beautiful photo's that brightened my day. This first one is my great nephew, Lincoln. He just got a new baby sister so I sent her a "welcome to the world" gift but didn't want to leave little Lincoln out. So I sent him my newest picture book, Cookies for Punch, along with some pretend dog ears to play like he was turning into a dog like the character in my book. Poor little Lincoln was born almost 2 years ago very prematurely. He spent the first few months of his life in the hospital. But he's a strong boy and bounced back with the speed of lightening! He has quite the personality too, one in which picture books should model their character by (and yes, my little mind is brewing up ideas). Anyway, to see him doing so well and enjoying my book so much, makes everything I had to do to get that book published, more than worthwhile.

Isn't he the cutest!!

This second photo is the grandson of my friend, Deborah Lynne. I don't know him personally, but feel like I do from everything his grandma has told me about him. Thanks for letting her take your photo, Eli!!

I just wanted to share all of this with any of you writers out there that might be feeling frustrated. You aren't alone, Not one bit. I think even the most successful authors have these same uphill, downhill battles. So don't give up. Any reward you might receive, even a photo, will show you that it's all worth it.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Spotlight on Children's Author, Maria Ashworth

I'm so pleased to be bringing to your attention a new children's picture book author, Maria Ashworth. I sat beside her at a recent book signing event and was so impressed with her work that I wanted to feature her on my blog.

Here is what she had to say about her new book Step One, Step Two, Step Three, and Four, her process, and what made her write this very entertaining story.

A young girl's world is turned upside-down when her mother tells her she's getting remarried. Along with the ring comes a few more, Step One, Step Two, Step Three and Four. The girl will do whatever it takes to keep the "steps" out of her life. She eventually realizes there are some benefits to her new blended family.

This picture book was nominated as a finalist in the picture book category for the 2012 National Association of Elementary School Principals contest.

I divorced after 18 years of marriage. It was devastating for the kids and me but we managed through it. My two kids didn’t mind me dating, and I didn’t think blending children would be an issue. I met a man who had five kids. When my daughter saw the seriousness of the relationship things changed. She didn’t want step-siblings touching her things, sharing her bathroom much less her mom.  We married despite her reservations.

I viewed libraries and bookstores looking for books on blending families. They had books on having a new mommy or daddy, or living in two houses. But none touched the subject of blending children. I didn’t plan on writing a book but tried my hand at making her a little story about her transition. I showed it to my husband and he thought I had something. 

My daughter beamed because now there was a story about her transition. We blended our children before the story got put into a book.

She adjusted early on and learned there were some good things about having these step kids. She realized she could boss them around, dress them up and when in a bind, blame stuff on them.

I wrote it lyrically to make it more appealing. I tried it in prose and it didn’t feel right to me. The book emphasizes sharing, caring and acceptance. I wrote the book to make children understand that it’s not all bad. That there will be an adjustment period but your parent will always be your parent. And they will always love you. No one will take that away from them. I wanted them to see that things can change for the better. That some good can come from it. The unknown can be pretty scary especially in children. The book can help with the transition. I believe Step One, Step Two, Step Three and Four has a place on a shelf in every household whether blended or not.

I had always had a love for writing since I was young. I didn’t take it seriously until I journaled my divorce. I thought that women would really benefit from my story. There is an empowerment to my journey. Right after, Step One, Step Two, Step Three and Four was born. I told myself then that I was going to get serious about my writing career. And my husband was behind it. I became a member of SCBWI in 2009. My first conference was in Houston/Katy, Texas. It put the fire in my belly. A week later I formed a weekly critique group with other writers. We’re 7 years strong with a lot of success stories under our belt. I acquired an agent two years ago. She worked on getting TOMMY JAMES and MY BIG TREE into a house. TOMMY JAMES went to the editor’s round table. So close but no contract. I know one day TJ and the rest of my manuscripts WILL be in picture books soon. I’m agent free now and independently published.

All my stories come from experience. I have forty-eight manuscripts waiting to get in the hands for children and adults to read. I love to tell stories and can’t see myself doing anything else.  

Purchase on:
Book trailer:

Allyn's Review

I’m so impressed with this first time author, Maria Ashworth’s debut picture book, Step One, Step Two, Step Three, and Four. I would give this a huge 5 star rating.

Not only is this an important story for any blended family, but it’s also just fun. Written in rhyme, the author gets a strong message across that things aren’t as bad as they might first seem. In fact, life can be even better than it was before!

At first, the little girl is terribly worried that her mom is going to get married and she’s just not sure she likes this new man named, Larry. “What’ll happen to our family of two?” She likes the attention centered on her. What if this new man has boys to bring in to the family? “There’d be frogs and worms, smelly socks and disgusting germs!”

With colorful and detailed illustrations, this charming story made me laugh. It also had a very satisfying and fun ending.

I not only highly recommend this adorable picture book to anyone who might be introducing their children into a blended family, but to anyone who enjoys a well written and funny read.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Fifteen Minute Rule

As I was sitting down drinking my morning cup of "wake up" coffee and watching Good Morning America (that's also my wake-up coffee), they were featuring a story about Shonda Rhimes. This really hit a cord with me. You all know who she is, right? The creator of so many wonderful shows like Greys Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder.

Shonda surprised me by saying she absolutely loves her job but even she has lost her passion for writing once in awhile. What!? You mean she is "kinda" normal like the rest of us writers? Hard to believe someone so rich, famous and talented could have dry spells.

What she said made so much sense. She was spending far too many hours working, even though she loved it, and not enough time playing.

I'm a firm believer in playing, in fact I probably play too often, but I know people who don't. She said one day, after she'd had a very long dry spell, her children asked her to play with them. It was then that she realized, even though she didn't want to stop and spend time playing, that her children would play with her for fifteen minutes and then move on to something else. So she took that fifteen minutes and afterwards, she felt revived.

I believe everyone could learn an important lesson from her words. If we would all take fifteen minutes a day to do something that brings us joy and makes us happy, we would feel so much more alive. And feeling alive is what ultimately drives our passion.

With me, since I don't have real children, I take my play children (my dogs) to the dog park. Well this takes more than fifteen minutes, but not much more since the park is close to my home. I get such pleasure watching my dogs and the other dogs run and play that it really does revive my happy self.

There are many times that my dogs want me to stop what I'm doing and play ball with them but I don't do it cause I'm busy! Well from now on, I will stop, take that fifteen minutes to play, and then carry on with my day. (can they read? They just brought me the ball and put it at my feet. Sigh)

Studies show that people who commit murders or terrorism played little to none when they were children. That tells me a lot.

So from now on, let's all try to remember the fifteen minute rule and go have some fun!

Here is the Good Morning article if you'd like to listen to it. It will take LESS than fifteen minutes!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What About The Ending?

When I write my picture books, I almost always know exactly how I want the story to end. Or at least I have a good idea. In fact, many of my stories I've actually known the ending first. I know what message I want to convey to children and many times, I've written the ending line before I even have a title or beginning sentence.

Picture Books are short and sweet and quick to end so I've always felt I needed to know that ending before my brain can know what to write about.

I've recently had my fifth picture book published and have four more waiting in the wings. My Halloween story, Pumpkin Squash is due to be published sometime this year before Halloween.

Picture Books are my passion, however I feel like I'm ready to branch out. When I first began my writing journey, I started with the idea that I'd write a MG Chapter Book. Beginning that story is when I discovered writing is really a blast! And that I may have a talent for it. I always was a good story teller when I was growing up so why not begin putting my stories on paper.

However, I stalled out in the middle of the story. That's when I began researching Picture Books and signed up for a class. I immediately fell in love with writing those types of stories.

But it's time to get back to my chapter book. I want to have more to offer readers other than just books for small children.

My dilemna is, I don't know how to end the story! And after writing so many picture books, it is really throwing me for a loop.

Therefore, I have a question for all you novel writers out there. Do you always know how you want the story to end? Or do you just let the words flow and discover the end as you go along?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Spotlight on Sue the Mingo goes to Mardi Gras

This is the second book in W.J. Smith, Jr’s series for children. The first book, "Sue The 'Mingo" was released in July of 2014. Sue is a flamingo with a colorful imagination!

These children's books, locally produced and written by Livingston Parish resident W.J Smith, Jr., target a pre-school to early elementary school aged audience. These large format paperbacks feature colorful art (by Kev Allen also a Louisiana native) and rhyming stories that are fun to read out loud, again and again!

A little history about how Sue the Mingo series came about:

When 2-year-old Kristian Smith visited the zoo with her family a few years ago she became enchanted with the pink flamingos and insisted on calling a flamingo a 'mingo. Her parents thought it was cute, and although the new word became part of the family's vocabulary, it didn't cross her dad's mind then that it would be the inspiration for a children's book he would author.

W.J. "Bill" Smith, Jr., of Watson, Louisiana, explained, "I always had the idea that I wanted to write a book, and when my father passed away three years ago, it made me think about my own mortality. I told my wife that I didn't want to wind up at the end of my life with a list of things I didn't do." His wife Cessely "Cissy" Smith asked what he wanted to do, and when he replied, "Write a book," she simply stated, "Then do it!"

“I thought, well, why not?” he said, “and then, ‘Why not now?’ I decided I wasn’t going to put it off anymore. Win lose draw, I would give it a shot.”

And so he set about writing, with the encouragement of Cissy, Kristian, who he says is now “8-years-oldgoing- on-20,” and son Patrick, 15. Recalling Kristian’s ‘mingo misnomer, Smith decided to write a children’s book about a flamingo named Sue who would have the same “sassy” personality as his daughter. “Choosing to write a book for children just felt right to me. I created Sue the ’Mingo because I wanted the book to have some relevance to my family. If Kristian was an animal she would want to be a flamingo!” he laughed.

Smith proceeded to write the book and learned a lot about the process of publishing. He estimates it took about 11 months from developing the concept for the book to having it printed.

“Sue the ‘Mingo” is about a color-obsessed pink flamingo who contemplates what it would be like to be a different color. It’s entertaining with its catchy rhythmic rhymes and colorful illustrations and along the way also teaches colors.

Once it was written, he passed it around to family and friends, and everyone encouraged him to get it published. He eventually decided to self-publish through local printers after discussing it with other authors. “I really wanted to go ahead and get it published without the delay of submitting it.

My Review

Sue the Mingo goes to Mardi Gras is a cute rhyming picture book for children. Sue, the pink flamingo, is color obsessed and dreams of what it would be like to be other colors.

Kids will get a kick out of this book and learn what colors are prominent in New Orleans, especially during Mardi Gras.

The illustrations could be bigger with more vivid detail but all in all, they are enjoyable.

Most children, and adults for that matter, are fascinated with pink flamingos. Therefore, I have no doubt they will love going on an adventure with Sue the Mingo!

Both books are available at Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, Louisiana; at The Idea Station in Watson, Louisiana; Oak Point Supermarket in Watson and Central, and at our Website

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Facebook Hoax

Happy 2016! I hope everyone had a wonderful, safe and happy holiday season. But now I'm depressed. I hate when it's all over. Sure it's a bit stressful and crazy during the holidays but I love the feeling inside that I get during that time of the year. I love that it's something different and exciting. Then when it's all over, it's just back to normal and it's so hum drum to me! But it is what it is.

As I was wondering what to write about this morning, I got an instant message through Facebook from my sister. I thought this was very odd since I've never gotten one from her before. We just email each other all the time. So I didn't answer her, instead I sent her an email asking her if she'd sent me one.

Now, why should I have to do that? Why should I be skeptical? The answer is because Facebook is getting to be a huge hoax for the rotten people in this world. Don't get me wrong, Facebook is a fantastic means to stay in touch with old friends, family, writing connection
s and all kinds of good reasons. But it has gotten out of hand.

In the last six months or so, I've been getting all excited because I get a message every morning telling me I have 1 new like and 4 new views. Huh? Everyday? How can that be? It's because someone out there is viewing our pages and trying to steal our accounts.

Also in the last six months, I've received a bunch of friend requests from people I'm already friends with, however it's always someone I'm not quite sure of. And instead of double checking to see if I'm already friends, I just accept. Then I instantly get a message from them saying "Hello, how are you?" When I got the first one, I thought How odd. But I answered back. One person said this, "I've been busy trying to win the lottery." I thought why do I care that this person I've never really talked to is playing the lottery and why are they telling me this?

So I wondered if this was some kind of hoax. So although I never really spoke to this person, they owned an ezine that I sent a story into so I asked them how the ezine was going. Then they said fine but spelled the name of their magazine wrong. I immediately knew something was up. Especially when they asked ME how long they'd been in business!! So I immediately deleted them.

Anyway, I've received several of these but have learned to never accept another friend request without checking to see if we're already friends.

I wanted to pass this on to anyone out there that may not know about this hoax. Never accept a friend request without checking first. One sure sign is if it's someone you think you may already be friends with and they only have a couple of friends themselves. It's a sure sign.

I don't know why these people are doing this or what their trying to accomplish but my guess is they are trying to get people's personal info or trying to get them to send money.

What I don't understand is why Facebook can't do something about this? They take it upon themselves to decide what posts we might want to see and from whom, but they can't stop these types of hoax's from happening? It's so irritating that I'm friends with all these people, but facebook only lets me see certain peoples posts because they want to control that!

If I didn't need facebook to help market my books, I'd be off it. It would make me sad because I do love when things go right and I can stay in touch with people I wouldn't ordinarily have a chance to communicate with, but it's really getting more of a hassle than it's worth.

How do you feel about it?