Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Prayer, Podcast and Presents

The Nativity, St. Barnabas, Bromborough

Beginning today, St. Andrew the Apostle's Feast Day, we can recite this prayer 15 times daily for special intentions. Advent is a wonderful time of waiting and watching and praying for miracles.
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
 in which the Son of God was born
 of the most pure Virgin Mary,
 at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, 
O my God,
 to hear my prayers and grant my desires,
through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ,
and of His blessed Mother. Amen.

I was invited to join a podcast of the Lamplighters. Rob Wyllie had a wonderful article, God's Toys, in The Lamp Magazine about The Velveteen Rabbit and it was lovely joining him and the editors of The Lamp, Matthew Walther and Nic Rowan, for a discussion on both old and new children's literature. I only wish it could've been in person.

This weekend, the Daniel Island News, which hosted the monthly author series this year is hosting a holiday book sale with over 25 authors participating. I'm so happy we'll all be together because I missed every other lecture this year due to choir practice. Besides, books make the best presents!

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving

A happy and blessed Thanksgiving to all. I keep in prayer all who are lonely at this time. Know that God is with you. Here's a favorite poem by Joyce Kilmer:

The roar of the world is in my ears.
Thank God for the roar of the world!
Thank God for the mighty tide of fears
Against me always hurled!
Thank God for the bitter and ceaseless strife,
And the sting of His chastening rod!
Thank God for the stress and the pain of life,
And Oh, thank God for God!

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

A Conversation with Carolyn Bennett Fraiser

Friends, meet Carolyn Bennett Fraiser, an accomplished writer, graphic designer, and missionary whom I had the privilege of meeting several years ago at the Carolinas SCBWI Conference. We reconnected again when she stepped up to be the critique coordinator for our region after I resigned. Thank you, Carolyn. And as writers are wont to do, there’s always some shoptalk. I noticed she also had a book coming out from Reycraft and since they make beautiful books (why yes, I’m biased!) I got a copy of it and knew I had to share it with you all. Moon Tree is a lesson in being attentive, developing laser-sharp focus on the little known yet interesting stories all around us.

Congratulations on the publication of Moon Tree: The Story of One Extraordinary Tree. I have never known about this forgotten chapter in our history. It is indeed a captivating story, beautifully written, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani. Thank you for taking the time to chat about it. I see that you have another book about Moons, so I’m curious, which book came to you first? And if you are obsessed with moons? Or trees?

For me, Moon Tree came first. I was fascinated with the story of astronaut Stuart Roosa and the moon trees and spent a couple of years researching then finding the right structure to use for the story. After it was under contract, I was contacted by an educational publisher to do the book on Moons. Of course, I accepted. Since educational publishing typically is faster than trade publishing, it beat Moon Tree by one month! But having them release together was such perfect timing!

Serendipitous! I do love that about educational publishing.

I think I’m a bit obsessed with both moons and trees! I’ve loved star-gazing since I was a kid and growing up just south of Cape Kennedy in Florida, space was always a topic of discussion in our house. My dad loved space too! But I also enjoyed nature. My favorite place to read was at the top of a tree in our back yard. My mom always knew where to find me for dinner. So you could say that I love both very much. Moon Tree was the perfect combination!

Indeed! Isn’t nonfiction writing just the perfect vehicle for people like us who are piqued by one little fact and then go chasing it down a rabbit hole? And of course, we’re rewarded with stories!

Absolutely yes! Once I saw my first moon tree, I couldn’t let it go. I dove into research and followed every rabbit hole I could. I’m glad I did! Stuart’s personal journey was fascinating in itself, but I didn’t stumble across the story of the third-grade class until I was months into my research. That made it a “must tell” story!

And you do so beautifully. “In a forest of ordinary trees, one sycamore has a secret few people know, a story unearthed in the stars. It all begins...with…” Your writing is so lyrical and poetic. I’ve got to know whether you had that beautiful voice from the very beginning? I’d like to think that even if you started out with a clunky draft, you could somehow feel the poetry underneath and brought it out during revisions.

Oh no. That would’ve been way too easy! My first draft was written in a very straightforward, expository format. I had sidebars and everything! I think my initial word count was up around 1500. I worked in as many details as I could. There was no poetic quality about it. Then I experimented with a very casual telling of the story from the perspective of the tree. I was still trying to find my own voice as an author and honestly didn’t know what would work. I submitted that version widely, but it didn’t sell. Then in a single day, I received two rejections: one editor loved the voice but thought the topic was too niche, then an agent loved the topic but hated the voice! It really is all about perspective, isn’t it? Anyhow, the agent suggested I try a more lyrical voice. I was thrilled – I loved lyrical voice! So I took some time to figure out the best way to restructure the story with the right voice, and it worked.

I do so love revising because that’s when I can see what was originally in my imagination look more like it on paper.

Absolutely. It took me months after that to find the right angle, but once I did, it all fell into place. Isn’t it great when a manuscript just clicks together like that?

How I wish it happened more often and more quickly! I’d like to know if there are some interesting tidbits that didn’t make it into the book.

Well, the manuscript went from 1500 words to 350, so a lot of details had to be cut. I did fit a lot of that into the back matter, but not every detail made sense for the book. Since the main focus of the book was on the seedlings, I included as much as I could about that story line.

One thing I didn’t have room for was the history behind the quarantine process. Astronauts from Apollo 11, 12, and 14 had to be quarantined for 3 weeks because the government was afraid they would bring back “moon bugs” from the surface of the moon. Everything had to be decontaminated including the seeds. That’s when the container broke in a vacuum chamber. After Apollo 14, the government realized it was unnecessary. But the fun part is that they didn’t take the law off the books until the early 1990s!

Most of what I had to cut were parts of Stuart’s story. He was shy, red-headed boy from Oklahoma who followed his dreams – even in the midst of the highly competitive arena of space travel. But he also had a mischievous sense of humor, so that made some of his stories fun. Faith also played a big part of his life, but after he traveled into space, he began talking about it more. The journey seemed to draw him closer to God.

I definitely wanted to know more about Stuart. So thank you. Please tell us a little about your writing journey, both the craft and business of it, given you’ve done such a wide variety of it.

That’s a whole different interview! I’ve loved reading and writing since elementary school. I studied it in college and even went on to get a master’s degree. I’ve written for nonprofit organizations for almost 20 years and a lot in the Christian magazine market. I was able to make a career of it because I didn’t limit myself to just writing one specific things like books. I was open to all kinds of writing. And it’s made me a better writer.

That said, I thought my experience would make it easy to transition into writing for children. It didn’t. I knew how to write, but I spent almost 10 years learning the craft before publishing Moon Tree. But learning how to write for children has made me a better writer overall. I write more concisely and can break down difficult concepts in a way that I couldn’t do before. That has helped me write better copy for my day job.

What’s next for you? I see M is for Mason Jar: An ABC for Young Homesteaders is in the pipeline. What a terrific idea! We’ve been practicing permaculture techniques in our backyard for the past few years but we’re nowhere close to being homesteaders. My husband is a keeper of bees, however! Do tell us more about your property. Pictures? Oh my! I'm salivating. Your property is both beautiful and bountiful. What a great blessing!

We have about an acre of land in western North Carolina but by no means is it a fully operational homestead. We do what we can to work with the land to stay healthy and save money along the way. We have a large vegetable garden. I grow and dry herbs. I even forage dandelions for a skin salve. We preserve a year’s supply of tomato sauce, pickles, jams, pesto, etc. I make our own bone broth as well as cleaning sprays, and laundry soap. We just finished building our chicken coop and hope to have chickens in residence next spring. My husband chops any wood from downed trees on our property that we use for fuel in the winter. We try to incorporate one new thing every year, but lack of time is often our enemy.

I actually wrote M is for Mason Jar on a dare. A homesteading group that I belong to online had a fun thread about the ABCs of homesteading during the pandemic. It was a very adult version, so I joked with my husband about writing a children’s version. He challenged me to do it, so I did. I never thought it would be published, but Familius Publishing picked it up and it is scheduled for release in Fall, 2024.

(Note: M is for Mason Jar is a tentative title; it has not been officially announced yet and is subject to change).

I love that you wrote M is for Mason Jar on a dare! Congratulations!!! Here's to many more beautiful books.