Wednesday, February 16, 2022


A Brilliant Novel in the Works by Yuvi Zalkow is a must for all writers, whether or not you have it all together (all lies). This was such a raw and honest portrayal of the writing life, of marriage, of friendship, of the big questions we ask. And funny too. I'm still not sure how the author managed to pull it off but given that his strength lies in the short story, I should probably be taking notes because it's my strength too. I fell in love with every character Yuvi introduced, starting with his wife, her brother, his girlfriend and kid, his parents, and even the Palestinian subplot. No villains. This unconventional and episodic book reminded me of Daniel Nayeri's Everything Sad is Untrue. Both beautiful.

North to Paradise: My Journey Across the World’s Most Dangerous Migrant Route by Ousman Umar and translated by Kevin Gerry Dunn is the memoir of the harrowing 5-yr journey Ousman takes as a 12-yr-old boy from Ghana to Spain. It is a miracle he survived at all—with his mother dying during his birth. He was destined to live, a son of a shaman in Ghana, who had a wonderful childhood, who nonetheless was captivated by the idea of the “land of the whites” and he set out at the age of 12 to "paradise." The writing is visceral and evocative. I could picture everything, though I still had to pull out a map to trace his route and it is indeed a miracle that this young boy managed to survive the journey through the Sahara to Libya and didn’t drown in the Atlantic on his last leg into Spain. He encountered so much cruelty, yet he persevered by the grace of God and help from people with good hearts. Today he manages an NGO that promotes education of Ghana’s children so that they will never have to endure what he did. Bloom where you're planted. Thanks to the publisher for a digital ARC. 

Coincidentally, I also got to read this interesting paper "Sankofa": How Indigenous Traditions Can Inform Sustainable Management of Natural Resources in Ghana by Adelaide Edinam Nyanyo. I enjoyed it because this is what it takes to make our communities and nations thrive. There's great wisdom in all cultures and before we adopt foreign ideas, investigate whether they're good for your own community. And look who wrote the first paper! 

I loved The Old Truck by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey for its spare text and evocative pictures showing the hard work and resilience in a family, of dreams becoming reality. You can read more about it here, including their inspiration.

Beautiful Yetta: the Yiddish Chicken by Daniel and Jill Pinkwater was such a fun book because Yetta, who's only ever known the countryside, escapes from the crate destined for the butcher shop and has quite a few adventures in Brooklyn. Daniel Pinkwater is a great storyteller (I used to listen to him many years ago on NPR). This one is based on a true story and that makes it all the better. Also, multilingual. At the back is the Hebrew alphabet (aleph-bet). Once upon a time, in my childhood, I learned rudimentary Arabic from our Muslim neighbors and I found it fascinating.   

I didn't know Ann Patchett wrote picture books but she has two delightful ones, Lambslide and Escape Goat, both based on wordplay and the same family (the little girl could be the young Ann), both illustrated beautifully by Robin Priess Glasser (of the Fancy Nancy books). Escape Goat has an electronic reader in the book itself, the first I've seen. Pity the poor children whose parents would rather not read to them.

A reminder: if you click on a picture, it gets bigger. And that's all folks. What are some of the good books you've picked up this year?  

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

A Conversation with Andrew Barton

Today I'm so happy to have Andrew Barton of Heyward the Horse series to talk about his writing journey, the business of self-publishing, and what sustains him. I met him through SCBWI when we started our picture book critique group in Dec. 2018. He brought his first book and I was immediately struck by how bright and engaging it was. How FUN! The Heyward books are in rhyme and this is the hardest to write well, but Andrew delivers. The books are beautiful and I hear that little kids ask for it over and over. And these books aren't just for kids. They make wonderful gifts for grown-ups who love Charleston. Over these past four years, it's been a joy and delight for me to get to know Andrew better. He's never without a sketchpad and a pencil and is always doodling something and I'm always impressed with how much he captures with a few deft strokes. And it's been great to see how he develops a book from scratch. So without further ado, you can hear it all from the horse's mouth yourself.  

Please tell us the path you took to get that first book published, the challenges and obstacles you faced, and how you overcame them.

First – thank you so much, Vijaya, for the opportunity! I want everyone to know that you are a wonderful person, an admirable writer and a fantastic critique partner. One of the most frequent compliments I receive about my second book was an idea that came from you. You suggested that I call my backmatter “hoofnotes” instead of “footnotes” (the main character is a horse) and it has made a lot of readers chuckle. Thank you!

[Vijaya curtsies] My pleasure, Andrew. I’m delighted about hoofnotes.

To your question, a very successful serial entrepreneur once told me that he would never ever try and make money in publishing. He said something like, “It’s almost impossible to make it in that industry”. He was two years too late! I was already heavily invested in changing the world with my first children’s book, Heyward the Horse Loves Charleston, Of Course.

Flashback two years earlier – my first child, Lucy, was just learning to walk. My wife and I were acquiring (and reading) children’s books to her at a rate that would surely set her on a path to straight A’s and a guaranteed full ride at an ivy league school. To the upper-class, and beyond!

But as I read, I quickly realized that all children’s books are not equal and would occasionally say to myself, “I could make this”. About that same time, I began looking for ways to increase my income to pay for that ivy league education just in case Plan A fell through. I’m a self-employed graphic designer and the thought of hiring employees to grow a big company sounded horrid. I’m an artist – not a manager! With a little encouragement from some mentor types, I decided to take a stab at producing my own intellectual property.

I hear you. As much as I love the idea of having a team of people at Bodach Books, I don’t really want to manage it all. I can barely manage myself, lol. Last year I got two books that really resonated with me since we've been pondering the beauty of the small family business, whether it's growing bok-choy, baking bread, or making books, and I think you’d enjoy them too. Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business by Paul Jarvis. And small is still beautiful: economics as if families mattered by Joseph Pearce.

I reached out to a successful local author, Jonathan Miller, and he gave me a great piece of advice. Before you start your book, write a business plan. So I did. As I wrote my first book, I was laser-focused on who would read it and how it would get into their hands. Two years later – about the time I received that great advice from the entrepreneur – my book was selling in a dozen local stores. It was a start.

I don’t mean to make it sound easy. It wasn’t. Could I write? Barely. Rhyme? Kinda. Draw? Yes. But I was not overly confident in any of these skills. I had no notion that such a thing as a professional critique group existed. I tend to be a learn-or-fail-on-the-job type of person so I worked intuitively while heavily relying on feedback from family and friends. The feedback, to my great delight, was overwhelmingly positive.

It's how I've learned most things too, Andrew. And how wonderful it is to finally find your tribe.

Birthing a children’s picture book requires a zillion little decisions and I stuck to my mantra – Keep It Simple Stupid. My other mantra – Don’t Reinvent the Wheel – pulled its weight too. In fact, without my friend Jonathan’s advice (and contacts), I might still be working on that first book.

The biggest mental obstacle for me was financially investing in my own business plan. Sweat equity is all well and good, but eventually, you have to pay someone cold hard cash to print your book. That was way out of my comfort zone. I bit the bullet, got a loan, and ordered 1500 copies. To get me through that decision, I relied on the positive feedback I’d received, encouragement from my wife, and a little bit of desperation.

Such good advice. And it’s great that you trusted yourself in publishing Heyward. I see that you've sold over 3,000 copies! That's fantastic! I love that you are NOT a starving artist. You make a living through your art.

As a graphic designer, my job is to create stuff that promotes my client’s message. My goal with Heyward was to make stuff to promote MY message for a change. Equally important, Heyward needed to be profitable. And after an astonishingly short amount of research, it became apparent that self-publishing would be the path of least resistance – particularly for a hyper-local subject like Charleston, S.C.

That said, I’d love to work with my “soul-publisher” one day if the opportunity presents itself. The opportunity should present itself to my email address here. ;)

I still feel like a newbie when it comes to self-publishing and marketing has been my nemesis. I admire how you've cultivated relationships with local vendors who sell your books. What advice do you have for those who'd like to do what you are doing?

Marketing is the big behemoth for nearly all of us, isn’t it? The truth is, I’m no expert marketer. As a graphic designer, I am well equipped to create all the visual assets and content. I created my website, email newsletters, social media posts, flyers, and business cards. I am particularly proud of the book trailer I made with my daughter’s help for my most recent book.

So I’m blessed to have the advantage of creating marketing fodder, but knowing how and when to use those assets to drive sales is the tricky part. That’s where the expert marketer shines. I’m still figuring that out and I ask for help when I need it. For example, I hired a PR consultant, Fisher Creative, to help me with press releases, copywriting, and strategy.

For Heyward, marketing is only part of the story. My main focus has been Wholesale Distribution. From the beginning, I’ve tried to get my books into local shops. It can be intimidating to walk into a store and ask for “the buyer”, but it works! Stores are always seeking new and exclusive items to stock the shelves. In that sense, the retailer and author are working together in a partnership to make the end consumer happy.

There are a few drawbacks though. For one, I have to be able to sell my books at a low enough price for the retailer to make a profit. The margins are much slimmer than selling a book directly from my website. Volume is key.

Bottomline - marketing (and distribution) is hard work. There’s no way around it.

Thanks, Andrew. It's so great to see your kids involved in the creative process. You have a young family. Can you give us a glimpse into a typical day?

Make beds, dress kids, scramble eggs, brush teeth.

Make beds, dress kids, scramble eggs, brush teeth.

Make beds, dress kids, scramble eggs, brush teeth.

What was the question again? Sorry, I’m exhausted.

For my wife and I, the typical day starts between 4:30 - 6:30 AM. Several times a week we take turns getting up early to work out. Then begins the Whirlwind of Monotony to get the kids off to school. Then begins the workday followed by another Whirlwind getting the children fed and in bed. The sameness of every day can be excruciating.

On the plus side, I believe there is no duty on earth that can surpass the beauty and gravity of raising children. The rewards of parenthood are beyond words and reach deep into the heart. Parenthood requires a near-complete sacrifice of self and it is terrible and worth it. In full transparency, as I type these high-sounding words my kids are banging on the other side of a locked door demanding my attention. I’m doing my best to ignore them.

Life with young kids is a short season and I’m very grateful for it. My wife, Erin, is a wonderful mother and partner. She’s also very supportive of my children’s book business. The days aren’t easy, but I feel very blessed.

Blessings upon blessings, indeed. And what a beautiful family picture--we don't often get snow so it's lovely to play in it. You bring back both the sweet and sour memories. I love everything you said, especially the essence of parenting. Your life itself is a work of art. Please give us some advice on how to create and maintain an artful life.

If my life is a work of art, it must be an abstract impressionist piece composed of dirty diapers, existential anxiety, sleep deprivation, coffee, and Disney+. I like abstract artwork so I’m cool with it.

Regarding your question, here are three things that have made a real difference in my life:

Prayer. In my twenties, God became a reality in my life primarily through earnestly seeking answers at church and in the Bible. The God that met me there was, to my great surprise and relief, a Loving Father. Ever since I have continued seeking Him and praying for wisdom in my decisions. Prayer is not typically a quick fix from my experience, but as I look back, I see God’s guidance at work. I love Proverbs 3:6. “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Routine: For Erin and me, routine is paramount. We’ve been married nearly 14 years and have learned, though we possess very different personality types, to work well as a team. We communicate frequently about all the wants and needs in our house. We even have a recurring Monday night meeting where we go over the business of the week. A routine does not come naturally to me, but it has contributed immeasurably to our lives.

Journaling: I highly recommend journaling with the aim of goal tracking. In 2019 I listened to an audiobook that changed my life. In a way, it’s just another goal-setting self-help book. But for some reason, Your Best Year Ever by Michael Hyatt spoke clearly to me and, more than that, it felt achievable. Goal setting can be extremely overwhelming, but Hyatt’s approach and writing style inspired me. I’ve been journaling and tracking my goals ever since. At this point, I can’t live without it. I wrote a blog post about this topic if you’d like to know more.

This is amazing: these are three of my favorite things too, though I came to the faith much, much later in life (13 years this Easter Vigil). Michael and I often wonder what it would’ve been like had we had this beautiful faith God has given us in our 20s (we're pushing 60). But thank God He never stopped chasing us. And thank God for bringing you into our lives.

Thank you, Vijaya for the opportunity to speak with you. You are one of the most interesting and enjoyable people I’ve encountered on my author/illustrator journey.

Thank YOU for taking the time, my friend, to share so generously. I've enjoyed it very much and maybe one day, the right story will present itself to us to make together. Here we are in our matching tees and your books! I think children's book creators have the best time ever. 

Readers, over to you. If you have questions or comments, I'm sure Andrew will be happy to respond.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Fun Pictures and Quotes

I rarely have to Zoom but couldn't resist being Flannery for a few minutes :)

Some quotes I came across last week:

Read like a butterfly; write like a bee. ~ Philip Pullman.

Attention is the beginning of devotion. ~ Mary Oliver.

Jesus has so incomprehensible love for us that He wills that we have a share with Him in the salvation of souls. He wills to do nothing without us. The Creator of the universe awaits the prayer of a poor little soul to save other souls redeemed like it at the price of all His Blood. ~ St. Therese of the Child Jesus, the Little Flower.

And a favorite quote from Mary Flannery O'Connor: You shall know the truth, and it will make you odd.

Sue Detar took this picture of us at the author event last week. The place is swanky, with the lovely sound of water flowing over rocks and goldfish in the pond. And the theater didn't just have comfy chairs but couches. It'd be so fun to do writing workshops in that fabulous space. 

And isn't this little lizard adorable? It's the smallest one I've ever seen, practically translucent. My fellow-chorister, whom I'm going to miss terribly when she leaves for college in the fall, found him at our oyster roast gathering. And check out the Thunderbird! 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The Music of Christendom and a Poem Wolcum, Wolcum

I know that for many people Christmas ends on Dec. 26th or after 12 days of Christmas at Epiphany but some of us celebrate all 40 days of Christmas season with beautiful music culminating at the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, Feb. 2nd (also called Purification of Mary; Candlemas). And I just received a lovely letter from a wonderful music teacher, Dr. Susan Treacy, who has a new book that is on its way to me to fill the gaps in my education: The Music of Christendom. She shared a lovely poem that I cannot just keep to myself. Here's the excerpt from her letter: 

I’d like to end my letter with the following poem to wish you blessings throughout the entire season of Christmas, from December 25th to February 2nd.  The Middle English lyrics below date from about 1400 and were written by the composer Thomas Ashwell (ca. 1478 – after 1513 (possibly 1527?).  They can be found in Sloane Ms. 2593 at the British Library in London.  Five and a half centuries later Benjamin Britten (1913-76) would use them for one of the carols in his Ceremony of Carols (1942), for treble choir and harp.  All the major feast days of Christmastide —hidden in their Middle English clothing—are mentioned in the poem. 

Wolcum, Wolcum

Wolcum be thou hevenè king

Wolcum Yole!
Wolcum, born in one morning
Wolcum for whom we sall sing!

Wolcum be ye Stevene and Jon
Wolcum Innocentes every one
Wolcum, Thomas marter one
Wolcum, be ye, Good Newe Yere
Wolcum Twelfth Day both in fere[1]
Wolcum, seintes lefe[2] and dere
Wolcum Yole!

Candelmesse, Quene of bliss
Wolcum bothe to more and lesse
Wolcum be ye that are here
Wolcum Yole!
Wolcum alle and make good cheer
Wolcum alle another yere
Wolcum Yole! Wolcum!

 [1] in fere, together.

[2] lefe, dear.

I love being Catholic. We begin a new liturgical year in Dec. for Advent, celebrate Christmas for 40 days, then begin preparing for the 40 penitential days of Lent followed by the Easter season, which is 50 days, and ending with the feast of Pentecost. This season is the longest, one for growth. Love how it ties into the seasons, the cycles of feasting and fasting. May Christmas joy remain with you all throughout the New Year!

NB: We participated in a Gregorian Chant workshop with Susan in 2018 while she was still at Ave Maria University. She's retired now so I hope she's open to offering workshops to parish choirs.