by Sally Matheny
After years of learning the craft, Vanessa is celebrating the publishing of her first picture book, Mama, I Want to See God, (BQB Publishing).
Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Vanessa wrote plays, poetry, and short stories as a young girl. After graduating college with a degree in music education with a concentration in voice, she taught general music, chorus, and voice. But, her passion for reading, and research soon led her to return to school for her master’s and specialist degrees in Media. Presently, as a teacher-librarian, Vanessa enjoys story time with her students. She took a break from her reading time to share with us.
I’m glad you enjoyed the story, as well as the illustrations. I’m pretty excited about it, myself.
Let’s talk about your book, Mama, I Want to See God. What inspired you to write this book?
My grandson, Anthony inspired me to write Mama, I Want to See God. About three years ago, when he was six-years old, he actually said to his mother those exact words. Since birth, Anthony has had a bad case of eczema, with extra dry skin on his hands, arms, back, and legs. Bleeding ankles and feet, due to uncontrollable scratching, made walking difficult for him. My daughter-in-law worried somewhat and thought Anthony wanted to die so that he would be relieved of the intense pain and discomfort. I assured her this wasn’t the case, in that children are naturally curious about God. The next morning I sat at my computer and wrote this story.
Why do you believe it’s important for children to read this book?
I believe children should read this book because it will give them a vision of who God is through the blessings and the love He bestows upon us. Children around the world wonder about God. It’s difficult for them to understand that God actually exists when they can’t see Him. This book will help children to discover who they are as a person as they learn and connect more with God. Children will draw closer to God as they gain knowledge about Him, which will hopefully allow them to “see” God in themselves.
Tell us about your book launch.
The celebration of my book’s launch was Saturday March 1, 2014. It was at the Wesley Chapel library in Decatur, Georgia. I spoke on the theme “Literature and Libraries: Influencing Children’s Lives through Life Lesson Stories.” I read a portion of my book with my grandson and granddaughter showing the illustrations. Afterwards, I entertained Q & A, followed by a book signing.
First, I must contribute the success of my book launch to God. I give Him all the credit. But, I have some exceptional friends and family! They assisted me at the sign-in table, sales, photography, and as program participants. They also helped by setting up and monitoring the refreshment table and the children’s activity table (coloring pages from my book). Lastly, many family, friends, and colleagues supported me by attending the event.
God truly blessed me. My book launch was remarkable and will forever stay sketched in my mind.
What other marketing plans do you have for your book?
My book will be on display/sale at the 2014 Coffee & Quill mini conference sponsored by Christian Authors Guild in Woodstock, Georgia on March 22, 2014.
Plus, my publisher is organizing a blog tour in late March promoting the book.
That’s right! My blog is part of the tour where I’ll post a review of your book on March 18. Plus, we’ll be giving away a copy of your book that day. That’ll be fun!
Are there plans for future books?
I’ve just submitted to my editor a parent/teacher study guide to accompany Mama, I Want to See God. Once it’s finished, it will be available as a download on my website. I’m also completing a children’s non-fiction book about the wetlands. Additionally, I have several unfinished books for children and adults that I’m so eager complete
Any words of wisdom for our pre-published writers?
Don’t be in a hurry to get your work published, especially if you’ve only been writing for a short period. Take the time to learn everything you can about writing and publishing. However, while cultivating your craft, wait in expectation. Psalm 5:3 states: “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. “(NIV)
What have you learned by attending Write2Ignite! and what keeps bringing you back every year?
I learned that I could write not only fiction stories, but non-fiction, too. I’m almost finished with a manuscript about the wetlands and the animals that live there. I like smaller, more intimate writing conferences. And, while I know W2I has grown over the years, it is still an arena where I don’t feel lost in the crowd. Also, this conference tailors to children’s writers; therefore, we’re all on one accord.
Vanessa, what made you want to become a Christian writer?
It was because of God! I had plans to write the great American romance novel. I never intended to write children’s books or Christian books. But, God had other plans for me.
One summer day in 2010, while alone at the gym, I attempted to change the TV channel to one of my favorite shows. As I climbed back on the elliptical bike, I realized I had mistakenly turned the channel to the 700 Club Christian Broadcasting station instead. At that point, I was too lazy to get back up, so I listened. God spoke to me that day and I responded with a resolved “Yes.”
I went home to write the first of many inspirational stories for children. Psalm 78:4 states, “We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders.” (NIV)
That’s my mission from God and I’m doing it!
Your words are inspiring, Vanessa. Thank you for sharing with us. We’ll see you at W2I!
Connect with Vanessa at: www.vanessafortenberry.com, on Facebook, and Twitter.
We’ve been talking about ways you can create products that will help connect your writing to the homeschool market. So far, we’ve discussed copywork and unit studies. We’ll look at some more products you can create in the upcoming months, but I wanted to share with you this month ways you can put those products to work for you.
1) Posting the printable on your website and sharing the word about it through social media is an obvious choice. You can also consider making the printable a subscriber-only freebie available only to individuals who subscribe to your blog or follow you on Facebook, depending on your goals.
2) Link up with other bloggers. Linking up exposes your work to a broader audience. Every link up has its own unique set of rules, and just like submitting work to an editor or agent, research is needed to find the ones that are the best fit for your work. Here is one collection of link ups I’ve found: Upside Down Homeschooling (Please note, I cannot endorse or recommend every site found here. Please use discretion when researching these avenues.) There are many collections of link ups out there to discover!
3) Can you turn your printable into a how-to or do-it-yourself post? I enjoy making printable board games for various history facts and wrote a guest blog post called, “How to Create a Board Game in Microsoft Word.” It has been one of my most popular posts!
4) That leads to another way to get your work out there—guest post on other blogs who target your niche. Read about what they are looking for and brainstorm creative ways you can meet their needs.
6) Find Facebook groups and Pinterest boards all about freebies! They are a great way to get your work out there, build your platform, and bless others with your creativity.
7) I work for SchoolhouseTeachers.com, the curriculum arm of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine. We are always interested to hear from writers who want to put their talents to use on our site. There is a free webinar you can listen to titled: How to Write for The Old Schoolhouse and the TOS Family. You can send me a note or question any time at writebonnierose (at) gmail (dot) com.
So what are you waiting for? Share what you’ve created with the world! You never know who might be blessed because you did.
Samantha Bell is an author, illustrator, both a writing and art teacher, and a homeschooling mom of four. Her stories, poems, articles and illustrations have been published both in print and online in magazines such as Boy’s Quest, Clubhouse Jr., Hopscotch for Girls, Learning Through History and Kids’ Ark. She has written several non-fiction books for children and has illustrated eleven picture books. Samantha is also the author-illustrator of It’s Birthday Time, Jake and her newest release, The Perfect Pet.
Recently, we caught up with Samantha to find out about her book launch of The Perfect Pet.
Congratulations on your new book, The Perfect Pet.About how long did it take you from the first draft to publication?
Thanks so much! I wrote the story in 2012, and it was accepted for publication in 2013. It was well suited for the publisher, Sylvan Dell, as it covered one of the topics they were looking for at the time.
What is more challenging for you, writing or illustrating?
They are both challenging in different ways. When I write, I have to revise many times. But I think illustrating for me is still more time-intensive. It involves dividing the story into page breaks, deciding on a story board, locating or taking reference photos, doing the rough sketches, and then finally, the finished artwork.
Share with us how you planned your book launch. How did it go? What did you learn from it?
I think the book launch went really well, although there are a few things I’d do differently. It was at a local bookstore on a Friday afternoon. It involved puppies from the Humane Society, balloons, snacks, and books!
Things I learned:
a. Invite everyone you know. Not everyone will be able to come, but you’ll still have lots of support.
b. Serve some type of refreshments. Since this was for an animal-themed children’s book, we had goldfish crackers and animal cupcakes. If the store offers to supply some of the refreshments (mine offered to supply the paper products and punch), bring back-up supplies, just in case.
c. Have some freebies like coloring pages and bookmarks. You can sign the bookmarks, too, so that young readers will have your autograph.
d. I had some door prizes to give away, but I don’t think I’d do that again. While they were fun for the kids who won, others looked SO disappointed.
e. If anyone offers to help, say “Yes!” Some of my friends offered to help out, which was such a blessing! One friend made nearly 150 cupcakes, and another served the punch.
What is next in the form of marketing your book?
I did a couple of school visits this past fall and attended the National Science Teachers’ Association one day with my publisher. I also recently did an online radio interview on Book Bites for Kids. It has been such a busy school year, though, so I may have to focus on social media marketing for while.
Have you started your next project yet?
I think I always have about three going on at once. I just completed writing a set of three nonfiction books for an educational publisher. I have a chapter book I wrote that was accepted by Guardian Angel Publishing; I’m finishing up those illustrations. I have two work-for-hire illustrating assignments to complete this month too. I have a really fun assignment coming up, too — I’ll be painting a bench for Greenville’s Children’s Museum.
What have you learned this past year?
I learned how boxfish swim, how volcanoes form, and how totally amazing God is with his creation! (Can you tell I’ve been writing a lot of nonfiction?
What are your goals for 2014?
It’s quite a list! It includes pulling out some older manuscripts and getting them in the mail. I also have a few new stories I’d love to see in print.
Samantha, thank you for sharing with us. You are a blessing at Write2Ignite! May the Lord continue to bless you, and the work of your hands.
In addition to all her writing, illustrating, and teaching, Samantha graciously serves on the Write2Ignite leadership team. You can connect with Samantha at www.Samantha-Bell.com or www.SamanthaBellBooks.com
Who can resist smiling when a child laughs? It’s like magic, the pure, almost musical giggle spilling out from a child’s lips. Wouldn’t it be great if we could hear that when children read our writing? If you can make them laugh, even a little, it’s likely they’ll continue reading whatever you’ve written. Using humor in your writing is an essential key to reaching children.
But what is humor, exactly? Merriam-Webster describes it like this: “that quality which appeals to a sense of the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous.”
After studying what makes kids laugh, children’s author Rick Walton feels he’s come up with a solid definition. “Humor is surprise without threat or promise. If the surprise comes with a promise – like winning the lottery, it isn’t funny. It’s wonderful and uplifting, but not funny. And if the surprise comes with a threat – it’s more likely to be scary than funny.” When you write for children, you must always remember the things they might find threatening and steer clear of them. Otherwise your humor falls flat and you end up scaring them instead of making them laugh. And never belittle, talk down to, or make fun of children, even in using humor.
So what do kids find funny?
The thing to remember as you add humor to your writing is your character’s (and reader’s) level of life experience. They won’t understand the humor if it’s out of their realm of experience, or the experience of someone their age. For instance, plays on words often won’t work for read-aloud picture books because the fun is in the different spellings of the words. Children who can’t read or spell yet won’t understand that type of humor.
Regardless of whether you write fiction or nonfiction, humor keeps your writing interesting and fun. So go back to that project that just didn’t seem to have enough pizzazz and try inserting some humor. It might be the secret ingredient that was missing.
You might think that’s a silly question. Of course we pray for our writing. But what, exactly, are we praying for?
If we’re honest, our prayers are often centered on requests for favor with agents and publishers. Book contracts, large advances, and strong sales top our lists. While these are not bad things to desire, here are some other things we could and should be praying for:
Everything we do, we do in Jesus’ name (Colossians 3:17) and for His glory (I Corinthians 10:31). This includes our writing, whether we’re writing for the Christian or secular market. It’s not about us. It’s not even about our readers. It’s about bringing glory to the Living Word, the One who gave us the ability to communicate through written words. Let’s be intentional about praying for His glory!
Our own spiritual growth
Even though our writing is not about us, we are still part of the process. I teach a weekly Bible study class. People often express wonder at the amount of preparation required to teach the class. But I don’t consider it work because I benefit from my study as much, if not more, than the class members. If I’m not growing spiritually, then I can’t be an effective teacher. It’s the same with my writing. I can’t draw water from an empty well. Whatever we write, let’s pray for the Lord to fill our spiritual wells with His creativity, wisdom, and insight as we grow in our dependence on Him.
The spiritual growth of our readers
We write our stories, poems, songs, and plays to benefit our readers. However, while our target audience may be children, our readers also include their parents, teachers, or other adults. It’s often an adult who makes the purchase, and, in the case of younger children, it’s an adult who reads to them. Are you praying for lives – both children and adults – to be changed and blessed as they read the words you write?
We belong to El Olam – the Eternal God. Although He created time, He is not bound by it. That’s sometimes difficult to remember because we are finite beings who are bound by time. We’re especially sensitive to the passage of time when we’re in the middle of a project and struggling with writer’s block or when we’re waiting for the response to a submission. But God is sovereign and His timing is perfect. Will you use your times of waiting to trust God for His perfect timing?
Years ago, I had a great idea for a series of children’s picture books. But while everyone I spoke to loved the concept, not one agent or acquisitions editor said yes to the project. After several years, I wondered if I should just file it and move on. Then I met a terrific children’s author who agreed to partner with me for the series. She applied her rhythm and rhyme abilities to the existing manuscripts and made them sing. The project was picked up by a children’s publisher soon after our collaboration. I’m so grateful for the early rejections because those initial drafts did not have the polish the published books have.
There’s nothing wrong with praying for commercial success for our writing. But something is terribly wrong if that’s our only focus. Our heavenly Father is continuously working to conform us to the image of His Son. If we want to look like Jesus, we need to share His priorities.
Now it’s your turn. What other topics can we pray for related to our writing?
Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. Her newest book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Precepts founder Kay Arthur. Additionally, Ava is co-author of Faith Basics for Kids. The first two books in the series are Do You Love Me More? and Will I See You Today? She has also written numerous articles for magazines such as Today’s Christian Woman, Power for Living, and Called.
In addition to her writing, Ava also teaches a weekly, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class of 150+ women. She is a passionate speaker and teacher, and delights in challenging audiences with the truth of God’s word in relevant, enjoyable presentations. Ava and Russ have been married for 35 years and live in southeast Florida.
For more information, visit her at www.AvaWrites.com