Book Reviews, Spotlight on Writing

Release Day for Winston Versus the Snow

It’s here, it’s available!

What do you do when you don’t like something? When you don’t like the texture of something? You avoid it!!! And that is exactly what Winston does because he HATES snow! Find out if Winston can move past his sensory issue in Winston Versus the Snow. You can listen to my podcast interview where I discuss the book here. And read about it here.

Advance Reviews:

While snow might not seem like a big deal to some, it’s cold and wet and not okay to Winston. A gentle and cute little story about a child with sensory-processing issues and his eventual ability and bravery to take on a snow day with the help of a dear old grandpa and a furry friend. – Meg Raby, author of My Brother Otto from Gibbs Smith Publishing

I love how the answer to Winston’s troubles were inspired by a dog! – Chris Robertson, author, and illustrator of Harry and the Hot Lava from Xist Publishing

A sweet story about facing your fears one step at a time. – Nina Crittenden, author, and illustrator of The Three Little Pugs from Little Bee Books

Hendricks pens a delightful tale of a boy and the snowy world that surrounds him. Readers will surely want to grab a cup of cocoa and cuddle up with this wintry and charming story. – Heather Macht, author of The Ant Farm Escape! from Pelican Publishing

Winston Versus the Snow is a tender story of creatively overcoming one’s fear. – Amanda Jackson, author of My Shape is Sam from Page Street Kids

Pick up your copy at Target, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or Books-a-Million 

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Book Reviews, Spotlight on Writing

Author Discovery ~ Mini Interview with Haleigh Wenger

Please welcome the author of The Art of Falling in Love – a YA story just released this month. At the end of the interview, you can find a blurb about the book. Be sure and add it to your Goodreads list!

What author do you compare your book(s)/writing style to the most?

I’d like to think that my style is a mix of Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson, but those are two of my favorite authors, so it feels ambitious just to say!

What is your favorite book genre? Why?

I love contemporary YA. It highlights such an important time period, right when teens are making choices about what kind of person they want to be and why, and they’re still so vulnerable but are also discovering real-world truths.

What is your favorite television show? Why?

My favorite show right now is “The 100”. It has it all! Teen drama, romance, sci-fi suspense. My favorite thing about it is that the storyline dramatically changes every season, so the story always feels fresh and interesting.

If you could have written a popular, well-known book, what would it have been and why?

Any of Judy Blume or Sarah Dessen’s novels. They were all I read growing up, over and over again. I loved the way the stories about girls like me made me feel.

Using your most recent book, who would play your main character(s) in a movie?

In The Art of Falling in Love, I always imagine Shailene Woodley as my MC Claire. And for LI Foster, I think Ross Lynch would be a pretty good match.

Why should your readers pick your book over a well-known author’s book?

If you like YA contemporary that’s heavy on the romance, my book would be a great fit! I think the best part of discovering new authors is that you’re just adding to your stack of great books, and who can be mad about that?!

What is your go-to snack?

Anything chocolate! And always paired with cold water. LOL!

 

Website: HaleighWenger.com

Twitter: @haleighwenger

Facebook: Author Haleigh Wenger

 

The Art of Falling in Love – blurb

Seventeen-year-old Claire Haynes always spends summer vacation at her family’s beach house in Florida, sketching and dreaming of art school with her biggest fan—her Opa. But when Opa dies right before summer break, all Claire has left besides her memories is a sand-sculpting contest application with her name on it and the lingering question of why Opa filled it out in the first place. Claire has never even made a decent sandcastle, but she reluctantly turns in the entry forms, hoping the contest will help her navigate the grieving process by honoring one of Opa’s last wishes.

When she meets Foster, a teenage boy with a talent for turning recyclables into abstract sculptures, the two join forces to win the contest and salvage the Summer of Art. They spend the humid summer days shoveling sand, devouring ice cream, and exploring Florida’s art scene. Just like Opa, Foster understands Claire and her overwhelming need to create, but he has a secret that threatens to ruin everything: he’s homeless and hiding from an abusive brother who would have him believe family trumps all.

When Claire’s parents find out about Foster’s homelessness, they offer him a home along with their hearts. But even picture-perfect families like Claire’s can harbor an ugly side, especially in the aftermath of Opa’s death. When someone close to Claire spills Foster’s secret, they’re both forced to choose between love and familial obligation. If Claire can’t break through long-held beliefs and prove family is more than shared DNA, she could permanently lose Foster and a chance at the sand contest to honor Opa.

Buy the book – Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Book Reviews, Spotlight on Writing

Interview~Author Debbie Burns

Image result for love at first bark debbie burnsYou have two rescue dogs and a cat, how was introducing them to make sure they got along?

Thankfully, our dogs seemed to know from the start that cats aren’t the same as rabbits or squirrels, which I don’t think they’d ever stop chasing if given a chance. However, we made sure to introduce the dogs to our cat on leash at first and made sure to feed them in separate locations. For the first few weeks, we kept them apart unless we were in the room to supervise the dogs’ behavior. In very little time, the dogs seemed to understand the cat was “off-limits.”

The cat, however, is a toughie at heart and never seemed to care. He’s half Maine Coon and has zero fear of dogs. In fact, if we don’t feed him first, he will force one of the dogs away from her dinner and take first dibs. They’ve all three been together over three years now, and they’re buddies—sometimes they even sleep cuddled together—though they definitely follow a “leader” hierarchy: Hazel (the border collie mix) is in charge, Owen (the cat) is next, and Nala (the pit-bull mix) is at the bottom of the totem pole but too happy and playful to notice.

Follow Debbie on Instagram to see her pets! @_debbieburns

I read you love to garden, what are you growing in Missouri?

I do love to garden! No pun intended, but there’s something very “grounding” about digging in the soil and watching something you’ve started from a seedling grow into a fruit (or veggie)-bearing plant. For years it was something I wanted to do but couldn’t find the time. A few years ago, at the encouragement of my daughter, we dove in and created a fairly large garden and made lots of mistakes along the way. One of the big ones was planting too many similar vegetables too close together, which resulted in some crazy hybrids like watermelon/zucchini crosses. In my few years of gardening, I’ve learned just enough about it to know that I have much more to learn before considering myself a knowledgeable gardener.

My favorite things to grow are tomatoes and pumpkins, though I moved houses last year and now live in the city of St. Louis. I love my gingerbread house and neighborhood, but I do miss having a large garden. This year I’ve been experimenting with container gardening only, and my go-tos have been tomatoes, herbs, and peppers. This fall, my teenage son is going to help build a large raised bed in the side of our yard. I’m also excited to start a native plant flower garden this fall.

Image result for sit stay love debbie burnsDid you have a lot of animal rescue knowledge before writing the Rescue Me series, or was it something you gained during those stories?

This question reminds me of a mug I saw the other day: “Please don’t confuse your Google search with my medical degree.” I almost bought it as a reminder to keep by my desk while I’m writing, but I wasn’t ready to replace my current favorite mug: “Writers Block: When your imaginary friends stop talking to you.”

In all seriousness, every time I write a book, I try to do it with reverence for all that I don’t know about the subject matter portrayed in the story. The truth is no amount of research can ever really make up for hours in the field. I’m an animal lover at heart and have acquired a good amount of volunteer, conservation, and nonprofit experience. Over the years, I’ve worked or volunteered with shelter dogs, abused horses, and certain endangered species like wolves and birds of prey, and I was quite comfortable writing about the non-profit, shelter world.

On the other hand, I am not (by any sense of the means) a professional dog trainer. My two rescue dogs are well behaved enough to fit right into my chaotic life with teens in the house. My dogs know (and perform for treats) basic commands but can be a touch forgetful of them when they want to be, especially Nala, my three-year-old pit-bull mix. But her obnoxious works for us. She likes to sit on laps, shove herself into conversations, beg for food, and hog attention. So…yes, while I have the experience, when writing scenes from characters’ points of view who are great trainers like Kurt Crawford in Sit, Stay Love and Tess Grasso in My Forever Home, I feel like just a touch of an imposter.

What drove you to be a writer?

As a kid, I had an active imagination and was always daydreaming and making up stories. I also loved to read and was hardly without a book. It wasn’t until I was graduating college with a BS in Biology and minors in Chemistry and Conservation that I had the idea to write down one the stories that was going through my mind. After so much science and math in college, the idea of creative writing was appealing, but I had no idea how to do it. My first manuscript took years to complete, but I learned a lot about writing in the process. I also fell in love with creative writing. That first novel wasn’t sellable (by any measure), but I enjoyed the writing process enough that I kept on writing in my free time while raising my kids and, at times, managing a full-time job.

By the time I got serious enough about writing for publication and had learned what I needed to learn to produce something publishable, I had quite a few roughly completed manuscripts and had been writing for over a decade—not a quick or easy path to publication by any measure. But I have no regrets. Over the years, I honed certain skills that make writing at the pace I’ve been maintaining for the last few years easier. I also took long enough getting published that I had become very sure that it was what I most want to do with my life.

Image result for love at first bark debbie burnsDo you watch four-legged movies if you know they will tug at your heart, or do you simply avoid them?

I definitely watch them, and try to read the books beforehand, though sometimes I put off doing so until I’m in the mood for a good cry. Old Yeller was the first movie I saw as a kid that made me really bawl (who didn’t?) and a story I never forgot. I wanted that dog to live forever. Same with My Dog Skip. More recently, I loved reading Art of Racing in the Rain and can’t wait to see the movie, though Marley and Me is a personal favorite.

I love Marley and Me (both the book and movie!

You recently had an amazing announcement in Publisher’s Weekly! How exciting, but a lot of work. How will you tackle such a large project?

My recent four-book deal with Sourcebooks was split between two in the Rescue Me series (which was extended from the previously contracted six books to eight) and two stand-alone Women’s Fiction novels. I’m excited and thankful and a touch daunted! Over the last three and a half years, I’ve completed five Rescue Me manuscripts, and I now have writing contracts for five more that extend just beyond when my youngest child graduates high school in three years from now. And I have day job!

Gosh! I have a day job too! It makes our plates very full!

This pace has only been manageable because I love to write. I love to create fictional characters, create havoc in their world, and watch them muddle through to their happily ever afters. Writing at this pace can be a challenge, but not only is writing my passion, I also recognize it’s a tough business. I’ve been at it long enough to have seen several writers’ ups and downs in their careers, and I’m thankful to have this opportunity. I’m also energized by so many great fans who have been loving the series and are so supportive and encouraging as they await the next release.

Image result for love at first bark debbie burnsThen, too, I have other hobbies like gardening, hiking, and hanging out with my teens, friends, and dogs. Making time for things like this that don’t involve sitting at a desk or the use of a keyboard or monitor is essential for keeping burnout at bay. I’ve also gotten into the habit of meditating (almost) daily. Through this practice and a yoga class or two each week, I feel like my creativity and energy are refreshed enough after a day of work to be able to write a few hours several nights a week and the majority of one weekend day as well. I try to take a full day off from the computer each weekend, though when I’m tight on a deadline that’s not always possible. When it’s all said and done, the only way I meet deadlines is because, in each and every manuscript, I fall in love with my characters (two and four-legged) and get great satisfaction in completing the project.

Thank you, Debbie, it’s been a pleasure to learn more about you and your stories.

Be sure to add Debbie’s Rescue Me series to your Goodreads list. The fourth book in the series, Love at First Bark is available on Tuesday! (July 30th). Love at First Bark is a second-chance romance for humans and dogs alike that celebrates the beauty of love that’s meant to last forever.

 

Book Reviews

Free – Read Chapter One from Grounded in January

Please enjoy chapter one from Grounded in January – if you enjoy it, all retailers currently have it on sale. Snatch it up and find out what happens!

 

Chapter One

The chill of outside air seeping through the jetway caused Kate Wilson’s already petrified body to tense up more. She did not want to get on the plane.

A sunny but cold morning, as cold as Phoenix could be in January, only reminded her that going home was a necessity. She wanted, and needed, an honest winter. As an added bonus, winter was the best time to fly since turbulence spiked more so in the spring and summer months. Kate had learned this during her extensive research on the ramifications of flying for those with anxiety.

Kate paused and took a deep breath before stepping from the jetway onto the plane. The gap resembled a drawbridge, except below she didn’t see pavement, but a possible way out. Her mind raced. Does anyone else ever try to shove their foot into the gap and push it apart in order to squirm down onto the tarmac below? Or maybe they try to open the side door leading to the portable stairs which only employees use.

Caught up in her thoughts, Kate’s ebony boot, the right one, clipped the lip of the plane’s threshold throwing her midair.

A pilot and nearby flight attendant reached out in horror as Kate went down, face first. Her eyes just inches from their polished dress shoes. Her InStyle magazine went right, her US Weekly went left. Her unzipped faux leather purse landed in first-class while its contents rolled into coach. The mauve scarf now attached Kate to her carry-on bag.

“Oh, my dear!” a female flight attendant exclaimed. An arm locked around Kate, hoisting her to a standing position once again. Shaken from the mishap, she pushed her copper curls off her face.

“Good thing you aren’t flying this winged beast today, ma’am,” the pilot said, trying to make light of the situation.

Kate smiled, grateful that she was now perpendicular with the plane and once again on her feet. Yet her scarf remained caught on the carry-on bag. She wrestled the scarf free, as her carry-on thumped onto the plane’s floor. Kate’s face went as red as the anti-collision lights on the plane’s wingtips.

Behind her, there was complete silence. She stood, convinced that outside the gate the entire airport stood still, waiting to see what would happen next.

The pilot handed Kate one of her magazines. An attendant had fetched her purse and its contents.

“Are you okay, dear? Would you like someone to check you out?” The attendant held Kate’s purse as though it were her own.

Glancing down, she saw that her jeans were not ripped, but her knees burned. She wiggled her toes in her boots, and they felt fine. Her long-sleeve, charcoal-gray sweater protected her elbows from anything worse than being sore.

“I think I’m okay,” Kate murmured as she reached for her purse. She picked up her carry-on, smiled, and said, “Embarrassed, but okay, thank you.” She turned around to the line behind her. “However, I’m afraid I don’t know what happened to my ticket. I had it in my hand.”

The pilot, the two flight attendants, and Kate searched the floor, making sure they weren’t stepping on it. A little white piece of paper peeked out from behind where the pilot stood in front of the lavatory door.

“I think my ticket is there.” Kate pointed.

The pilot popped open the lavatory door to confirm Kate’s suspicion. Her face scrunched. Why am I even getting on this flying gasoline-filled death trap in the first place? Kate bent down to pick up her ticket at the same time as the pilot. Their heads smacked.

The ticket remained on the lavatory floor as they rubbed the pain from their foreheads.

“Here.” The pilot handed Kate her ticket.

“Thank you.” Kate took the ticket, her bag, and her diminished pride and headed down the aisle to locate her seat.

“Just make it to your seat and sit down,” Kate mumbled to herself. This day cannot get any worse.

Locating seat 13A, she stood on her tiptoes and reached up to place her carry-on into the overhead compartment. However, Kate could not get the bag over the compartment lip. In addition, the pain from the fall started to creep into her toes and knees.

“Let me help you,” a lanky, travel-chic woman said from behind her.

Kate spun around, allowing the bag to nearly fall onto her head.

“I saw what happened when you got on the plane,” the woman whispered. “You need all the support you can get.”

The travel-chic woman winked, snatched Kate’s bag from her hands, and placed it without any effort into the compartment.

Kate produced a half-smile and said, “Thank you.”

In a meek attempt to hide as quickly as possible, Kate squeezed past the seats’ edges and sat. Even without anyone else sitting in the seats, it remained a challenge to move in such a cramped space.

Kate rubbed the spot on her forehead, which felt as though it sprouted a small bump. The sunlight bounced off the airport’s windows as she gazed out. She prayed the actual flight would be far less of a mess than trying to get on the plane. Closing her eyes, Kate ran through her checklist. Dramamine, check. Motion sickness wristbands, check. Lavender oil, check. Puke bag in the seat pocket. Kate leaned forward and searched the seatback. Check. Safety instruction manual, check. Deep breath and counting, check. Plus, I hope I don’t have a seatmate who (a) got sick, (b) gets sick, and/or (c) skipped a shower in the last day.

As the plane filled up, Kate lucked out. Her seatmates consisted of a businessman who was more worried about when he could use his laptop and headphones than flying, and a woman focused on when she could get a glass of wine and read on her tablet.

The air pressure fluctuated and hummed in the cabin as they taxied out onto the runway. Kate took deep breaths and went over her mantra in her head. Remember, a real winter. Maybe she could even dig her skis out of her parents’ garage. This would be a time to clear her head and figure out her unhappiness. She checked to make sure her wristbands were in the correct spots and held her scarf to her nose, breathing in the lavender.

“You can do this,” she muttered as the plane shook with the roar of the engines gaining power. Kate closed her eyes. The plane lurched forward, pushing her firmly into the seat. She tightened the seat belt strap as the front wheel lifted off the ground. The back two were still on the runway. The plane’s nose pointed toward the sky. This was one of Kate’s favorite moments of flight. In that moment Kate was reminded of how amazing a plane can be, and how light her body could feel. She felt as though her body took a breath of freedom in that moment of weightlessness.

But then, the back two wheels came off the ground, and Kate’s stomach dropped. Her favorite moment was over. Put the wheels back down! Kate wanted to scream at the pilot. Noticing the choppiness of her breathing, she returned to her mantra. The last thing she needed was to have a panic attack at thirty-five-thousand feet.

The plane continued to climb, putting pressure on her ears. Kate attempted to fake yawn, encouraging them to pop, but without any success.

“Here,” the businessman seatmate said, and he held out a stick of gum. “I saw you trying to fake yawn. Try this, it works better.” The businessman made eye contact for half a second, before returning his eyes to the seatback in front of him.

“Thank you,” Kate said. She smiled and took the gum.

She folded the spearmint gum into her mouth and shoved the wrapper into the seat pocket. The plane began to level off, as Kate peered out the window at the brown landscape below. It had been an extra dry summer, without much monsoon rain, which set fall and winter up to fail. A few areas of green were scattered here and there. December had seen some rain, but Phoenix definitely needed the monsoon storms to bring enough moisture to make it through the dry spells. Seeing Arizona from above reminded Kate of why she still loved Washington. The state’s lush green landscape and snow-capped mountains often remained throughout the summer months.

The flight attendant came by with the beverage cart as Kate flipped through her glossy magazine pages. She ordered a glass of red wine. Even with all her checklist items checked, she wanted to be anywhere but here.

“Cheers,” Kate’s other seatmate said, reaching over the businessman to tap their plastic glasses together. Despite their toast, he didn’t lose focus on his electronic spreadsheet.

The wine and the Dramamine began making Kate drowsy. She dozed until the pilot’s voice broke through the humming of the pressurized plane.

“We are beginning our final descent into Seattle. For those of you who are visiting, welcome. For those of you coming home, welcome back. Flight attendants, prepare for landing.”

While most people find landing to be the worst part of a flight, Kate found it to be the only other thing she liked about flying. She listened for the snap of the landing gear like a child waiting to hear Santa on the roof.

The plane dipped to the left as they circled around the Space Needle. Rain skimmed across the window. It was as though the sky were crying tears of joy along with Kate. The gray clouds were so thick that it was impossible to tell where one cloud ended and the next one began. Evergreens popped into view as though they were reaching up, trying to touch the plane’s belly. The aircraft lined up with the runway as the houses below came into view. They appeared like a child’s playset, miniature and without the flaws of life. Kate envisioned a tiny toddler’s hand coming in and picking up the plane; spinning them around the room before dropping them onto the carpet.

The wheels touched down on the rain-soaked runway and the brakes worked hard to slow them. Kate yanked her seat belt tighter for safety. Once, as a child, her seat belt had not been tight enough, and she went shooting forward. The seat belt caught under her arms as her legs flailed around, soon choking her.

The brakes finally took hold, grabbing the runway with force. Then the plane bounced softly forward as it taxied toward the gate. The dampness of the air crept down the aisle from the now open door. Passengers hurried to get their bags and disembark. Kate remained seated, staring out at the rain. She hated all the shoving and bumping just to get somewhere one minute faster.

When the last passenger exited the aisle, Kate stood and reached for her carry-on. Forgetting she didn’t put it up there, she now realized she could not get it down.

The flight attendants were busy thanking and saying goodbye to the remaining passengers, so Kate placed her left boot on the armrest of the seat and her right boot on the seat. Hoisting herself up, she grabbed the compartment edge. Letting go with her left hand, she snatched the bag, yanking it toward the edge. In an attempt to climb down and take the carry-on with her, Kate’s boots tangled around the seat arm. Trying to fall forward into the row, she braced herself as she slid awkwardly into the aisle seat.

Getting to her feet, she rubbed the side of her hip. At least her carry-on was on the floor now where she could reach it. Taking a deep breath, Kate headed toward the front of the plane.

“Are you okay?” a flight attendant asked.

Of course, the attendants saw her latest mishap. Kate rubbed at the pain.

“I’m fine,” Kate said. “Have a wonderful day.”

“You too, dear,” the flight attendant replied.

As Kate turned back to give her a smile, she tripped over the airplane door gap again. She stumbled forward, but was able to catch herself this time. Kate straightened her scarf and readjusted her sweater.

With a fake smile plastered across her face, she headed downstairs to baggage claim with her head held high, regardless of the giggles she heard from behind her.

 

If you enjoyed chapter one, be sure to get the book or ebook and meet Oxnard and find out what happens!

Book Reviews

Picture Books About Flowers

Image result for Miss Rumphius

Happy May 1st! Spring has sprung (regardless of some snow across the upper United States) and soon it will be summer time! Every time I think of picture books about flowers, Miss Rumphius always comes to mind. I remember my father reading the story to me several times as a child. I also remember pulling the book from my book shelve and flipping through it, looking at the pictures. I still own a copy of that very book. Here are a few other flower picture books perfect for the end of spring.

Image result for picture books about flowers

A rhyming story with regards to who cares about flowers and who doesn’t.

Image result for picture books about flowers

A richly drawn picture book showcasing a flower for each letter of the alphabet.

Image result for planting a rainbow'

This book is a bold delight of colors and fun story too.

Image result for zinnia's flower garden

Visually appealing picture book, especially the cat and dog. This story is brimming with conversation starting illustrations.

Book Reviews, Spotlight on Writing

Release Day for GROUNDED IN JANUARY!!

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from Brother Mockingbird Publishing

20190409_153528The day has finally arrived and now YOU can enjoy my first sweet romance novel. I’ve loved this story from the first idea (a fearful flyer), and my drive to include multiple sclerosis in a story (for my mom who suffered from the disease). From there the idea grew in Grounded in January. And, an important note, for many of you who remember Bayou, I hope you find this book extra special. While this story is a work of fiction, Bayou’s mannerisms are brought back to life (and his name) throughout the book. I do hope YOU find this story to be funny and inspiring.fb_img_1496244030665

Advance praise for Grounded in January.

Grounded in January is a heartwarming, down-to-earth tale that will convince you that two people, no matter how imperfect, can still find a perfect love. – Cassidy Carter, author of Love on Location and The Perfect Catch from Hallmark Publishing.

Grounded in January is a story of resilience and rebirth that will warm your heart. Kate and Ox reminds us that having faith in love can be the greatest leap we can make. – Maggie Wells, author of Love Game from Sourcebooks Casablanca.

A heartwarming tale of two people dealing with real-life issues that lead you on an emotional journey filled with angst and laughter. This story is a fantastic reminder that love can make all the difference in someone’s life, especially when other factors are full of uncertainty and out of one’s control. Inspirational! – Elsie Davis, author of Back in the Rancher’s Arms from Entangled Publishing.

Add Grounded in January to your Goodreads list!

Purchase it on IndieBound or Amazon! And request it for your local library and bookstores!

Book Reviews, Spotlight on Writing

Interview with Meg Raby, author of My Brother Otto

Please enjoy my interview with children’s book author, Meg Raby, and her first picture book, My Brother Otto.

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photo credit: Michelle Sterling @averyandaugustine

During an Instagram story you gave viewers the opportunity to learn that My Brother Otto almost never happened. Tell us your thoughts about when you decided to send it off to Gibbs Smith Publishing.

About four years ago I had some eyes I highly respected take a look at my manuscript, which was then called PIPER AND OTTO, and tell me that it needed a lot of work and actually encouraged me to take the picture book in a whole different direction. If I had listened to this advice, I would have been writing something that was not my own—and not the point of MY BROTHER OTTO.
Because of the status of some of the people who provided initial feedback and because I found the whole process to be exceptionally vulnerable, I set the manuscript down and told myself to let it go—it wasn’t meant to be.
Fast forward about two years later and I’m in an accountability group all about taking risks (don’t worry, the healthy kind!), and they encouraged me to pick up the manuscript again—to risk the rejection all over. I picked it up, ended up making some significant, albeit important, changes to the manuscript and MY BROTHER OTTO was born.
Because Gibbs Smith Publishing publishes some of my family’s favorite books that seek to “Enrich and Inspire Humankind,” and because I thought it would be an incredible and more personal opportunity to actually get to meet the editor and other staff members of Gibbs, I put them at the top of my list. I will let you know my list was lengthy but that I never had to submit to any of the other publishers, because I heard back within 1 month.
Oh how my heart exploded!

Where/when did the idea to write My Brother Otto start?
I had known facts about autism spectrum disorders (ASD) but never had direct relationships with any child or adult with ASD until graduate school. I went to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and received my Masters in Speech and Language Pathology with an additional certification in ASD. Before graduate school, I could list off the common characteristics of autism and write a strong essay, but I did not truly know what it all meant.
In graduate school I had the chance to do a clinical experience, or practicum, at a local autism center. This experience lead me to my first job as a speech and language pathologist with kiddos on the autism spectrum. Oh how I wish I could share with the perfect words how much that practicum and job melted my heart and forever created a love for the children and their families.
I think it’s a common misconception that if you have a diagnosis of ASD then you are “living in your own world” and don’t have social needs. You see a bunch of odd behaviors and that’s it. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I became friends with a 3-year-old who was nonverbal and who displayed a high amount of tantrums and aggression. This child was merely communicating frustration in a way he knew how—he was upset, and I realized that if others weren’t understanding what I was trying to communicate that I’d be upset, too. This same child grew to trust me and to enjoy our interactions. He’d see me in the hallway and flap his hands in excitement. On the occasion, he’d even hug me. I knew this needed to get out there for others to hear—I’m cutting my response to this question a bit short, because I could discuss dozens of more children (and adult) relationships similar to this one.
I do want you to know that the very first thing that set off my pursuit of writing this picture book was Ellen Degeneres’s statement to “Be kind.” She says this at the end of each show, and I love it. I love her. In order to be kind, especially when a child and when something or someone seems different or maybe even weird, gaining understanding and walking in their shoes to get a new perspective is absolutely essential. Gaining understanding leads to love—to kindness.
Your Instagram account, Bedtime Stories Forevermore, blossomed quickly. What was your hope when you started the account and did you think it would bloom into what it has?
My goal was merely to do something creative and to connect with others who love children’s books as much as I do. Sure, as a speech and language pathologist I know the importance of literacy and want to always advocate for more time reading together (it’s insanely important), but I also know the magic and the fun that comes from falling in love with books. I want to share only books that I believe will be endlessly beloved and help along in the “falling in love” process.
I will say as soon as I learned MY BROTHER OTTO was being published that I took the opportunity to address awareness and acceptance of children and adults on the autism spectrum on my account. I am so excited to spread the love for a misunderstood or often-overlooked community on Bedtime Stories Forevermore. I’ve connected with inspiring parents and friendships have formed. If even one person can gain new understanding or one parent can help their child understand their classmate on the autism spectrum and encourage kindness, then my job on Instagram is worth it.
Some states have a large group of writer programs/events and groups, while others lack. How does Utah stack-up?
Utah is a hub for children’s authors and for writing seminars and conferences. I honestly did not know this prior to moving here three years ago, but if you are looking for support in the children’s literature world, this is certainly a great place! I’m actually on my way to grab brunch with author Lezlie Evans—we met when her book FINDING CHRISTMAS came out and became instant friends. She’s so lovely.
Do you have any other picture books in the works?
Sitting in the hands of the publisher? Yes. Given the green light for publishing one of the manuscripts yet? No. I currently have a sequel about Otto that is being reviewed and actually a holiday book not related to Otto that is also being reviewed. We shall see what happens! It’s definitely a practice of patience in this field of work—but totally worth it.
Screenshot_20190330-124212_Instagram.jpgMy Brother Otto released on March 19, 2019. What is your ultimate goal with its release (how do you hope it inspires/helps the Autism community)?
I want MY BROTHER OTTO in the hands of all young readers—whether they have any association with autism or not. Currently 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with ASD in the US, so it’s safe to say there is most likely 1-2(+) classmates or neighbor kids in their daily life with this diagnosis. My goal is to make ASD understandable to the youngest of readers and to show that these classmates and neighbors like to learn, play, have friends and have fun just like they do. I want everyone to fall in love with Otto.

You can purchase My Brother Otto on Barnes & Noble, Amazon and directly from Gibbs Smith

You can follow Meg on Instagram at: bedtime.stories.forevermore