Friday, November 28, 2014
Since this is the last installment of my TALES FROM THE BAYOU series, I thought I would give everyone a hodge podge mixture of different Christmas traditions and memories I have growing up in the swamps of southern Louisiana.
Soon after Thanksgiving Mother would shift the living room furniture around to make way for the annual trip to our ancestral lands to bring home a fresh cut Christmas tree. The entire family would hike deep into the woods until my father would select the perfect tree and proceed to chop it down. Back home Mother would hammer the metal base onto the bottom and then let us kids loose to decorate.
There was no money for fancy tree finery but we still managed to fill the tree with old glass and felt ornaments, colored paper chains, strands of silver tinsel, and garland made from popcorn and cranberries. I can remember sitting on our living room floor just waiting with needle and thread while Mother popped mounds of popcorn and someone else collected the cranberries from the bush outside our house.
Next came the canned snow Mother would frost the windows with which really got me into the spirit of Christmas. While the temperatures in southern Louisiana could get occasionally into the teens, very rarely did it snow that far south. Even the pretense of the powdery stuff would send my Christmas spirits soaring.
In one corner stood a rather large Santa and Rudolph which I loved to play with, despite the heavy vinyl smell emanating from the pair. The wind up church had an honored spot near the television but one of my favorite holiday items Mother made each year was the Christmas scene she made out of tiny plastic trees and poinsettias pushed into a styrofoam base. I thought that scene so creative I continued the tradition for many years even after I had moved out of my parent's house.
Then came the baking. By the time I was an early teenager, my older brother and sister were both in the Navy and Mother would faithfully stuff a care package for each of them with Christmas cookies covered in royal icing, chocolate and peanut butter fudge, homemade fruitcake and some divinity that was never my favorite. Janet and I were lucky to get to nibble on the "mistakes" of Mother's baking because only the best was good enough for family members serving their country.
Oh how the memories come flooding back when I think about those Christmases long ago. Flashes to last a life time like the year I got a five pound peppermint stick along with a hammer to chip pieces off to eat; my first bicycle I wrecked on Christmas Day; the first toy I ever remember receiving when I was 2 1/2 years old (a toy frog that would jump whenever you pumped the long yellow bulb handle); the year my brother waited until my parents were asleep and then proceeded to unwrap all our presents so we could know what we got before carefully rewrapping them; my father threatening to shoot Santa Claus with his old shotgun he kept in the closet; ribbon candy & Whitman Samplers; knowing I would always be able to find an apple, orange, and a handful of nuts in my stocking; singing Christmas carols with my sister; getting to open one present on Christmas Eve and praying my choice wasn't socks or underwear.
The list could go on and on. Each memory is so sharp in my mind that all I have to do is close my eyes. I can almost imagine myself back in time to that house on McMurtry Street when life was hard but memories sweet growing up on the bayou...
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Title: Turkey Claus
Author: Wendi Silvano
Illustrator: Lee Harper
Publisher: Amazon Children's Publishing
Ages: 4 to 8
Synopsis: Turkey is on his way to ask for Santa's help to stay off the holiday menu. But getting in to see Santa at Christmastime isn't as easy as Turkey expected. It's going to take all his ideas and a clever disguise to find a way into Santa's house.
Why you should read it: Wendi sent me her hilarious picture book, TURKEY TROUBLE, last year for my FREE Author Promotion event so when I discovered she had another adventure with Turkey, of course I had to read it! Ms. Silvano has teamed up again with illustrator Lee Harper to share a fun story of poor Turkey's plight in trying to stay off the holiday menu by asking Santa for help. Turkey's Christmas Tree disguise is my favorite and the solution to the holiday main dish problem is cute!
Like-O-Meter Rating: 5 out of 5...grab it!
**As a special treat, here are a few more holiday picture books you might want to check out***
EMMA CHRISTMAS by Irene Trivas
THE CHRISTMAS GIANT by Steve Light
A VERY FUDDLES CHRISTMAS by Frans Vischer
ON CHRISTMAS EVE by Liz Rosenberg
TWAS THE FRIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Judy Sierra
THE AMAZING CHRISTMAS EXTRAVAGANZA by David Shannon
A CHICK 'N' PUG CHRISTMAS by Jennier Sattler
RUSSELL'S CHRISTMAS MAGIC by Rob Scotton
WHO'LL PULL SANTA'S SLEIGH TONIGHT? by Laura Rader
A VERY HAIRY CHRISTMAS by Susan Lowell
Monday, November 24, 2014
To my GUARDIAN ANGEL...thanks for giving me a second chance at living. If anyone has read my story in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: ANGELS AMONG US, you will know what I'm talking about. Life can seem meaningless at times and broken spirits can walk dangerously close to the abyss when they are hurting. My life could have been forever changed all those years ago except for the intervention of a loving God and a guardian angel who quite literally gave me a chance to begin again.
To my MOTHER...thanks for doing the best you could in a horrible situation. Your strength and pioneer spirit when I was a child wasn't clear to me but time dulled the pain and wiped the blinders from my eyes so that I might see you in the proper light. Right or wrong, you gave birth to me and I am proud to say that no matter what, I always showed you the proper respect while you were on this Earth.
To my EX-HUSBAND...thanks for giving me my son. He is one of the most precious things in my life and my greatest joy. Not all relationships can become the way people want them to be and I've always wished you health and happiness...even when it was safest for our futures not to travel the same path.
To the DOUBTERS in my life...thanks for challenging me with your words. Whether from cruelty or misunderstanding, every negative thought sent my way only fueled the fire within me to overcome the obstacles in my life. Even if it took a long time, I was challenged to remain strong to the person I wanted to be and can be proud my personal goals over the years have been met while my integrity has never been compromised.
To my FRIENDS...thanks for accepting me just as I am. No one is perfect and God knows I have many faults, but at the end of the day I can still look around and know there are people in the world who care about me. People willing to share the good as well as the bad and who are not afraid to stand by me when the going gets tough.
To my GOD...thanks for constantly watching over me and those I love. I have always seen you as a loving, forgiving being and I have devoted my life to helping others in your honor. I know LIFE can be hard but despite the struggles of my own personal journey, I have always believed YOU will never give me more than I can bear.
I wish the world good health and happiness, love and joy, and a future bright with the promise of a peaceful tomorrow. What more could anyone ask for?
Friday, November 21, 2014
I'm not one of those people who eagerly overlook Thanksgiving in my rush to charge headlong into Christmas. But there will only be two more installments of my TALES FROM THE BAYOU series and I would be remiss not to include my Christmas celebrations when I was growing up.
Every Christmas for as long as I can remember the church pictured above was part of the holiday scenery. At one time you could wind up the music box and as Christmas music would play the doors would slowly open to reveal the lighted scene inside.
I was absolutely fascinated with that church and every night before I went to bed I would wind it up over and over again for as long as Mother would allow me to play it. My nose was almost pressed against the doors in anticipation of the beauty I would find inside and once the doors closed at the end of the song, I would eagerly await for the magic to begin all over again.
I also never claimed to be a fabulous singer but I can hold a bit of a tune and growing up I could always find a spot in my church's Christmas pageant. While my mother wasn't particularly religious, she did believe in God and encouraged us to attend church each Sunday even while she remained home. But she always attended the holiday festivities to watch her children perform in the pageants. I'm sure she will correct me if my memory is fuzzy but I seem to remember Janet attended the sheep in the Nativity but I don't remember what my other siblings might have been. For myself, one year I was the heavenly angel shining down on the child in the manager. I remember thinking the wings they put on me were pretty uncomfortable to wear but even worse was the fact I had to stretch out my arms above my head in a circle and was expected to hold them in that position for the entire play.
Needless to say, my six year old arms weren't strong enough to do that and every time I would drop my arms there was a pair of unforgiving eyes staring at me from beyond the curtains, reminding me "angels" lifted their arms in joyous praise and I'd better do the same!
But there was one song for me that heralded the Christmas season. I would walk around all day long constantly singing "Away In The Manager" until my family couldn't stand it any more and told me to be quiet. One Christmas when I was fighting my usual bout of laryngitis the doctor told my mother that I wasn't allowed to try and talk as my vocal chords were inflamed. My mother took that to heart and forbade me to do ANY singing until I was well. What she never found out was the fact whenever she was out of the room and I lay in my bed sick, I continued to whisper-sing the words to that song. There was just something about the vision of anyone loving me so much they would watch over me long after they were gone that brought comfort to a shy six year old and NO ONE was going to stop me from singing that song!
I got well, despite the additional strain on my vocal chords, and I can still wind up that little church to hear those melodies from my childhood. Those Christmases in the swamps of southern Louisiana will always hold a special place in my heart this time of year...
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Publisher: Philomel Books
Ages: 4 to 8
Synopsis: A toy drummer boy mysteriously appears on a child's doorstep. The drummer boy plays his drum and discovers the meaning of love. But when he accidentally falls into the trash, the drummer boy is sent on a scary and snowy adventure. He shares the only gift he has, the gift of his drumming, and with the help of others finds his way home again.
Why you should read it: The illustrations are breath taking but it is the story that grabs my heart this holiday season. With Thanksgiving just a few days away and the season of forgiveness and love just around the corner, this simple story brings such joy to young readers as they follow the drummer boy's journey into a somewhat darker world. What the little drummer boy didn't realize is that the only gift he had to share left the world he left behind a little brighter.
Like-O-Meter Rating: 5 out of 5...grab it!
Monday, November 17, 2014
I've had fun writing the posts for this series and hope it has helped some of my readers who might have needed some fresh ideas on the ins and outs of marketing their work. In the last post of this series, I look at some of the other creative options childrens book authors have in getting their books in front of their targeted audience. Some of these might work for you and some won't. It takes a little bit of moxie or gumption or assertiveness or whatever you might want to call it to approach some of these venues about doing a book event...i.e. reading, book signing, party, etc. You might have to help educate individuals on the benefits of allowing you to come into their establishment. Remember, it's not about YOU and YOUR BOOK. It's about THEM and WHAT'S IN IT FOR THEM. The easier you make it for them to say YES, the more eager they will be to help you make your event a success. I like to call this my:
THINKING OUTSIDE THE CRAYON BOX MARKETING LIST
Teacher's guides...Create your own set to post on your website and bring on school visits or hire someone like the talented Marcie Colleen (http://www.thisismarciecolleen.com/) to do it for you.
- Hallmark stores...Why not offer to do a reading during the holiday season for free in exchange for being able to hand out bookmarks?
- Street fairs...Check your city's website for upcoming events and see if you can participate in any of them.
- Farmers markets...Maybe they will allow you to set up a booth or hand out flyers
- Gyms...Some facilities have a children's room and some have monthly promotions for their members. Maybe you can work out a deal to do a children's activity during a monthly membership drive?
- Airports...Many airports have retail stores in them. Why not see if there is one carrying books and set up a time when you can be available for impulse buys and a book signing?
- Art stores...Your book will have illustrations. Why not offer to do a reading and maybe even a coloring contest where you provide your book cover as the pages?
Art museums...Same as above or even have a contest where kids can interpret your book in some other art form? Have a contest, offer some small prizes and then do a reading/book signing afterwards.
Craft stores...Like the art stores or art museums, you could have a craft party where you tie in some simple craft with some aspect of your book. Make simple puppets, make a cool picture frame and color a copy of your book cover to place inside. Do a reading/book signing afterwards.
- Church bazaars...Make up a basket for the silent auction, ask for a booth space, offer to provide a simple craft in exchange for handing out your book's swag items
Community youth sporting events...Ask if you can hand out flyers, offer to volunteer a couple hours in exchange for being able to hand out bookmarks at the concession stand.
- Coffee shops...If the coffee shop is inside a bookstore or places like Walmart, maybe you can create a giveaway like for every cup sold the customer gets their name added to the drawing. Hand out a two part entry form where they fill out the bottom but keep the top with your book information on it.
Special interests groups...My book resonates with both beginner readers as well as children struggling with learning disabilities like dyslexia. Find professional groups in your city that might allow you to leave information about your book for their clientele.
- Radio stations...Offer a coloring prize pack to the first ten people to call in. Oriental Trading (www.orientaltrading.com) has a great selection of inexpensive items for prize packs. Don't forget to include your bookmark and business card.
You Tube online video contest...Have a contest where kids act out your story or tell why they like your book. Post the top five on your website and promote others through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. to vote on their favorite. Winner gets a prize pack including an autographed book.
- Book pairing on website or Amazon...If you have more than one book, see if you can bundle them together and offer a discount for the package. Create a collection of 3 or 4 short stories or maybe a short Ebook on how kids can become writers and offer as a freebie with every purchase through your website.
Mail Chimp Newsletter...If you haven't set up a link for visitors to subscribe to your blog, do it now! I use Mail Chimp (www.mailchimp.com). Not only is it simple to use, it offers an easy newsletter template where you can keep in touch with your subscribers.
- Fast food restaurants...Where do you see a lot of kids? McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys! Why not chat with the manager and offer to host a little party at their place? It can be a tea party, an ice cream party, a coloring party, etc. They supply the food and maybe offer something like a free cone or drink to the first 50 kids to come in on that day.
Local kids events...Check your city's online website for local kids events. Make contact with whoever is in charge and see if you can participate. Some of them will allow you to join for free if you offer some kind of door prize or incentive they can give away. It's how I've gotten into the Children's Festival of Reading for the past three years for FREE and been in front of 15,000 people each year!
- Daycares...Think of the number one place you will find kids outside of school? Daycare and afterschool visits can really boost the opportunities to get your books in front of your targeted audience. Suggest acting out your story, coloring contest, and don't forget the flyers going home to parents announcing your upcoming visit. Offer a way to preorder your book so you can sign them the day of your event.
Cub Scouts...Look online for the different badges cub scouts can earn. Create a 90 minute "lesson" where scouts can participate to earn their badge. Call your local organizational leader and offer to visit any pack in the area who would like a free author visit. Break up your "lesson" into three parts...part one is where you read your book to them and answer questions, part two is where you do your main activity (scouts could have completed other parts of the badge requirements prior to your arrival) and part three is where YOU present the scouts who have completed all the requirements with their activity badge (provided by the den leader). Send flyers home prior with pre-order info and hand out bookmarks, autograph sold books, etc. after the event.
- Girl Scouts...Same as the Cub Scout lesson details listed above.
Festivals...Neighboring towns might have festivals where the cost of gas might put you in front of hundreds of potential readers of your book.
- Civic organizations...Think of how your book might tie into their interests. Since my book is about learning disabilities like dyslexia or struggling beginner readers, I will look for those groups and see how I might be able to participate in some of their events. Maybe they will allow my bookmarks to be handed out at their meetings. Maybe they will promote my book on their company blog or website. The worst they can say is no.
School carnivals...Don't forget the annual school carnivals, health fairs, book fairs, etc. where you can possibly have a booth or at least hand out flyers about your book.
There are literally thousands of opportunities out there to market your book. If you can be creative in your stories, then surely you can be creative in the ways you promote them?
Let me know if you have tried any of these ideas before? What worked? What didn't? What do I need to add to this list? Comment below...
Friday, November 14, 2014
I understand now that my mother must have pinched pennies for months when I was growing up in order to create the banquet she did on every Thanksgiving Day. I don't know the different jobs my father did over the years, but the last job he held was as a cook for an offshore rig. Although he spent many a day away from his family, I don't think he was compensated enough for it by the looks of what passed for food in our house most days.
While others ate steak and pork chops, my siblings and I could look forward to things like fish head soup, rooster comb and chicken feet to dine upon. You think I exaggerate but I kid you not. When I say I came from a poor childhood, it isn't to garner sympathy but to seek admiration for what my mother managed to conjure up for us to feast upon during the holidays.
I would go to sleep on Thanksgiving Eve with the knowledge that sometime the following day our dining room table would be groaning under the weight of more food than I would usually see in a week. While the bird stuffed with cornbread dressing slowly roasted in the oven, Mother would set the ingredients for mashed potatoes and corn on the cob to boil. Deviled eggs chilled in the refrigerator along with the pumpkin pie and sometimes a Jello mold of some type. There was a white, shallow-divided bowl holding the green peas and carrots while sweet tea simmered in a silver pitcher. Homemade rolls covered with homemade butter and dirty rice (a Cajun dish where you cooked rice before adding chicken livers, gizzards, hearts, and sometimes crumbled sausage to the mix which darkened the rice and gave it its name) waited on the table to greet us.
Despite my parents problems, holidays were usually a family affair and my father would sit down at the head of the table where he and I would then argue every year over which one of us would get to eat the turkey's tail. I would usually win and thought it a grand conquest to have bested my father out of my favorite part of the bird. After the leftovers were eventually put away and the dishes washed, I would retreat to my bedroom where I would lie around reading while waiting for the aches of an overly stuffed stomach to go away.
Neither of my parents were deeply religious people and there weren't prayers of thanks heard at our table like in other families, but despite my life I still had much to be thankful for while I was growing up in that place I called home.
I had a good companion in my older sister, Janet, who managed to put up with a nagging little sister four years younger without killing her in the process. I had my dog, Penny, who tolerated many games of dress up and my sad attempts to teach her tricks without so much as biting me once. And I had my books. One of the few things my mother approved of, my childhood was filled with wonderful, glorious books of every kind to sometimes act as a buffer between the reality of my life and the worlds of my imagination.
My life growing up might have been challenging but on Thanksgiving Day each year all it boiled down to was a tasty meal and a good story...