The idea of Valedictorian initiated years ago when I was in the auditorium at my very own graduation rehearsal. My principal introduced the valedictorian and salutatorian for the first time; and I was in the crowd saying to myself, "Vale-WHO?" For some reason, that experience stayed ever-present in the back of my mind. I now homeschool my four daughters and wanted to make sure that they knew going in, what a valedictorian is and how one goes about reaching such a lofty goal. Becoming a children's book author was the organic and natural next step for me guided by my heart and instincts. You see... I became submerged into children's books when I began homeschooling my daughters. By the time I was about two years in, I have read hundreds of titles, and have had hundreds more read to me. However, I didn't see one explaining what a valedictorian was, so therefore I created it.
Q:If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
A:It would have taken much convincing to make me believe that I would be a children's book author when I was younger. But after successfully doing so, the first thing I would tell my younger self would be simply to start writing now! That's because writing is just like anything else, the more you write, the more comfortable you become writing; and therefore improving your writing each time.
Q:How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
A:I actually started out publishing Valedictorian with another "self-publishing" company buy the name of Dog Ear Publishing. However, that relationship was problematic from the very beginning, and after a while I realized that not only was I not getting what I paid for, but the services that I was receiving, were over priced; and they were mediocre at best. Worst of all, the original vision that I had for my book was ultimately being altered. Thankfully, I had the wherewithal to see the writing on the wall, and decided to cut ties with Dog Ear Publishing in order to strike out on my own. I launched my own Self-Publishing Company, LodgeWell Publishing LLC. That decision has proven to be great for several reasons, but most importantly, because it allowed me to produce exactly what I envisioned. Overall, I would say publishing my first book the way that I have has helped me to write my books more efficiently going forward, and above all else, it has made me more confident about my book ideas.
Q:What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
A:Without question, investing in my own publishing company has been my best investment in myself. When I was working with Dog Ear Publishing, their "editor," who most likely never contributed to a children's book other than from an editors standpoint, suggested that I make a rather big change that I immediately questioned. In fact, I thought it was downright ridiculous. So much so that I requested a refund right away for the portion of my package that was designated for manuscript editing. They originally charged me $250, and refunded me one half of that, $125. With a simple search on the internet, I was able to find an amazing editor who have written and illustrated dozens of children's books; and if that wasn't enough, she also teaches courses on all things children's books at a University in Rhode Island. Her price to edit my less than 1000 word manuscript, was $90. So to reiterate, she was grossly more qualified as a children's book editor, yet she was a fraction of Dog Ear's price. Furthermore, her opinion of my manuscript was much different then that of Dog Ear's " editor ". Margo LOVED IT, and made no such ridiculous suggestion. I mean...I felt like the first editor didn't know what she was talking about, but this is my baby we're talking about, so I am completely biased. But when Margo confirmed that the message was powerful and perfect just the way it was...I was excited and viewed that as a sign that I was on the right path. If you are not willing to invest in your idea, who will be? When you are "shopping your idea around to complete strangers," you put yourself at risk for someone stealing your idea and putting their own spin on it, as well as risking your confidence taking a beating and being permanently afflicted by the nay sayers and non-believers.
Q:What does literary success look like to you?
A:Literary success to me means creating a book that first and foremost piques the interests of many readers and compels them to crack it open often and frequently. A good children's book is going to provide you with a lesson rich storyline, and great illustrations. However, with my book I wanted to provide a more robust reading experience. Valedictorian, provides a mood setting quote, a lesson rich storyline, empowering information that can benefit them, introduces them to new words in perfect context that they can constantly refer back to, all while giving them positive images of who they truly are and what they potentially can be. It even goes a step further by providing visual reminders that exist outside of the book. Each book comes with two bonus inserts, a framable Valedictorian (in-training) certificate which gives the definition of valedictorian, and allows the owner to sign there name and agree to be a valedictorian (in-training). The other insert is a fun illustrated poster of Famous Valedictorians and Famous Salutatorians. The poster features Alicia Keys, Hilary Clinton, Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King as valedictorians. It also features Norris Cole, Michelle Obama, Robin Roberts and John Legend, as Famous Salutatorians. It was important for me to make the connection for readers and highlight the correlation between the hard-work these individuals put in to attain that early academic success, and the subsequent super-success that they've experienced because of their initial hard-work. If this book successfully plant seeds of hope and promise into the minds of our youth, and influences them to read more, it would have served its purpose, and I would consider it to be a success.
Q:How do you select the names of your characters?
A:Luckily for my daughters, I am, and always have been the type of person who if they were going to get wet, would much rather prefer to go swimming! In other words, if I 'm going to do something, I want to do it at all the way... 110%. So for me, it wasn't good enough to create characters that merely looked like my daughters. I wanted them to literally see themselves in a book as successful role models for other readers. Putting positivity out into the universe and attempting to speak, or should I say write some things into existence. Embellishing their ages so that the storyline makes sense.
Q:What is your favorite childhood book?
A:This is another great question. Honestly, when I was younger, reading was not one of my favorite things to do. When I would get on the bus or train during those New York City morning commutes, and saw many of my female classmates reading chapter books that I had zero interest in, that made me think that I just didn't enjoy reading. However, a retired principal of over twenty years recently told me that her observation as a principal made her realize that boys more so enjoy reading for information, while females generally enjoy reading fantasy type books for entertainment. I found that to be spot on, and information that needs to be shared. I didn't know of or seek out books that interested me at the time. If someone presented me with that ideal, and a book like, "How to Be A Ninja," back then, my class mates would have seen me on those morning commutes reading that book every morning. Learning all about nun-chucks, ninja stars and backflips. I would have definitely considered myself an avid reader then. Similar to when I was reading up on self-publishing. I relished the opportunity, and looked forward to finding new and useful information everyday. That definitely helped shape my writing style as a children's book author. Prompting me to write books that are interest based, and that provides empowering information.
Q:What does "Representation" mean to you?
A: For me, representation means seeing yourself in the characters you are reading about. Currently, animals are better represented in children's books than some actual human cultures are. I find that to be problematic. I believe that it is not only important for readers to see themselves in the books that are shaping there imaginations, and most importantly the perspective that they have of themselves, but it is also important for children of other cultures to see our culture in this light. I think it is absolutely critical that readers see themselves having titles like valedictorian, engineer and ultimately as creators. When you see it, you can be it!
Q:Where can our readers find your book(s)?
A:Hardcovers and softcovers are sold exclusively on my website www.Learn2ReadRead2Learn.com, and at pop-up signings at various events. The e-book can be bought on the website as well, but also on Amazon.com, iTunes.com and BarnesandNoble.com.