March 2014: The Children Are Tender

Caregiving, teaching little kids to read, and riding in the pickup with Farmer John; I tweet, pin, and blog, from my home in rural Kansas. If you've landed here looking for information about my books, visit my author's page by clicking this link: A. Born. Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Just Like Grace Kelley

My parents were the inspiration for the characters of Bob and Anna Williamson in The Children Are Tender.  In the book, Anna is Karola School's head cook, while Bob is the head custodian. The character Bob thinks his wife looks just like Grace Kelley, while he himself claims a resemblance to Humphrey Bogart. 
"The head cook’s name was Anna Williamson. She was married to our custodian, Bob, who thought her the most beautiful woman in the world. Because I kept such late hours at the school, Bob often found me still at work when he made his rounds each evening. We had shared regular conversations, and I’d learned that he and Anna had married when Bob was a sergeant in the army during World War II and she was a receptionist for an industrial motor company in Kansas City. Because of his hearing disability, Bob had been assigned stateside duty as a military policeman, riding the trains that carried troops. Bob and Anna met when he was home on furlough, shared their first kiss under the Grand Hall clock at Kansas City’s Union Station, and had married just a few months later."
My mother actually was an assistant manager for the central kitchen that served the Olathe public schools for a time, and her initial aversion to the use of bulger as an additive to meat served as the basis for the chapter in the book that relates the completely fictional story of how Anna charmed the school board as well as Mayor Burke with her cookies and her smile.  However, Dad was never a custodian, although he once thought about applying for a custodial position at the school where I worked. I'm sad to say I objected so strenuously that he gave up the idea.  Dad, the real life Bob Williamson, was something a character--not in the literary sense--and I didn't want him to work at the school where I taught.  My lingering guilt over not wanting to share my workplace with my own father probably contributed to my decision to model Karola School's head custodian after Dad

In the book, Bob and Anna are about 35 years older than they appear in the wedding photo above.  They have both grown slightly rotund, but Bob still believes his wife looks just like Grace Kelley.   The real-life Bob Williamson would never have claimed resemblance to a movie star either for himself or his wife, but as his admiring daughter I always thought my dad was even handsomer than Bogart. 

I'm blessed to honor the love my parents shared by naming characters after them in my book.  Dad would've been proud, and if he were still living I know he would still, as he always did, believe my mother to be the best looking woman in town (even if he never went so far as to compare her to Grace Kelley)! 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Cow Whisperer

I keep repeating this claim: "There are no characterizations of real people in my book.  Some stories were inspired by true life situations, but I created characters to act out the parts."

I admit there is one exception to these statements; I did my level best to reveal my husband's personality in the character of Farmer John.  He has a host of aggravating, lovable, endearing, and infuriating characteristics, and I tried to include them all; after all, my own husband can't sue me (I don't think). 

I ride along in the old red pickup to help with chores each morning and have taken to carrying a pen and notebook along.  In this way I've gathered quite a few "Farmer Johnisms" for my next Karola book, if there is one (first y'all need to help the current Karola book sell well enough so I don't have to pay a publishing fee to have my next book published.  I've decided we aren't doing that again, I don't care how much the nice publisher likes my book, even if he does have a charming Irish brogue.  After all, the Proverbs 31 woman brings in cash via her hobbies rather then expending it...but that's another blog post. Meantime, click HERE to review the book--you don't have to have purchased the book at Amazon to review there).

Yesterday morning John was sorting cattle as he prepared to move them to pasture.  He prefers to do this job alone, spurning his father's help, telling our son not to bother to drive down to help, and instructing me sternly to stay in the truck.  He says the cattle are used to him and get spooked if anyone else shows up, and this may be true.  However, I'm convinced there is something more.  He doesn't want anyone distracting the critters from his mystical cattle-influencing talents.

As John strides into their midst the animals stop what they are doing and stare at him like prepubescent girls stare at posters of Justin Bieber.  John fixes his gaze upon the animal he desires to move.  She casts her eyes from side to side and bats her long eyelashes...and then, incredibly, turns in the direction he wants her to go. 

John's appeal to the critters may have more to do with the scent of corn chop than with any mystic talent, but I'm not sure.

I call him "The cow whisperer." 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Book Excerpt: First Day of School

Hope you enjoy this excerpt from chapter 4 of The Children Are Tender:  

They say a drowning person’s life passes before his eyes, and I believe this to be true, because a similar phenomenon happened to me. In the few seconds between the ringing of the bell and the moment the first tidal wave of youngsters hit the elementary hall- way, there played before my eyes in excruciating detail a record of every single misbehavior I had ever seen committed by a small child. There was the three-year-old I’d seen punch his entreating mother squarely in the nose because she wanted him to stay in the church nursery. I saw grocery store tantrums of varying intensities, ranging from whining at the checkout line to full-fledged tantrums in the aisles. Next, I remembered a five-year-old cousin’s complete domination of all adults present at an Easter Sunday dinner as she screamed at high volume over not being allowed to eat chocolate as a first course, and there was more, much more. 

My eyes were wide with terror, and I was staring sightlessly at the wall when I was brought to the present by a tug at my skirt. I forced myself to focus upon a tiny girl who was looking up at me curiously. “Are you Mrs. Boin?” she asked. I knelt in front of her and admitted that I was indeed, Mrs. Birn. 

“Teacher!” she exclaimed, and with no more introduction than this, she put her arms around my neck for a quick, shy hug, then ducked into the classroom. Her name was Jenny Malone, and by that one sweet gesture, she enabled me to get a grip on my churning insides. I turned to greet the other children.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Try It--You'll Like It!!

My husband's uncle approached me at a family reunion.  "You know I've tried to read your caregiving book," he said, "But I just couldn't do it." 

Although he was not either a caregiver or dealing with someone suffering dementia, he had made an attempt to read the devotions I wrote for caregivers in My Mom Has Alzheimer's.  "I liked the funny stories," he said, shaking his head, "...but Alzheimer's...ugh!" 

My first book was written for those undergoing the rocky transition from past relationship roles into a becoming a caregiver for a loved one who has dementia; not what you'd sit down to for an afternoon's light reading!  It is like medicine that can be lifesaving when prescribed for someone suffering pain, and I do have a file of emails from grateful caregivers that attest to its effectiveness in providing balm for wounded spirits, but is not needed for a person who isn't undergoing the trials it addresses.  

I'm concerned now that those who read my first book think they know how I write.  I'm worried that I'll be pigeonholed as someone who writes about "serious subjects."  An author to be avoided if you need a bit of escapism from the real world! 

Well, welcome to the world of Karola, Kansas!  Mrs. Springer slams her car into reverse and careens across two lanes of traffic and onto the curb inches from the large glass window of the Farmer's State Bank of Karola.  Marshal Jonathan Rosencutter dances with the pretty ladies who form a line for that  privilege on Saturday nights at the Smokey Bar and Grill.  The head of the schoolboard dons a chicken costume in an ill-advised foray into the realm of whimsy at Halloween, terrifying a group of first graders.  A kindergarten student hears a teacher's sound effects from an adjacent stall in the girl's restroom and dubs her "Mrs. Tinkle." 

This is not a relentlessly sober book. 

There are heartwarming and heart-rending moments to be sure--these are inevitable when telling the story of a young woman's first year of teaching.  But if you like James Herriot's stories where the three protagonists play off one another in a humorous way, you'll like this book.  If you enjoy the warmth and close knit feeling of community in a Jan Karon novel, you will enjoy this book.  I admit it is a feel good book with a happy ending, and you'll also find some timely issues that just don't go away for us in education such as budget cuts and testing mandates.  But mostly I just hope it becomes one of those "old friend" books that are opened time and again because the stories are engaging and the characters have become familiar. 

Try it, you'll like it! 

You can win a free copy of The Children Are Tender by entering the April giveaway at my website! 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Do this...and this...and this....

Decorations from Saturday's book signing--I particularly loved that copy of an ancient basal reader, The Story Road, that topped the decorative stack of books in the foreground. 
In the current economic climate in our nation, budget cuts have impacted every sector.  Publishing companies have handled this financial stress by placing more responsibility on authors' shoulders to publicize their own books.  My agent has encouraged me to aim for 100 positive reviews at Amazon, because Amazon fuels book sales not only at their own site but across the internet as well as with book sellers.  If people want to help spread the word about this or any book, writing a positive review at Amazon is the most powerful way to do it (if you like The Children Are Tender I'd appreciate your taking a few minutes to review it--you don't have to have purchased the book from Amazon to write a review there). 

I want to do a good job promoting my book, really I do; but I honestly am uncertain of the best way to begin making those connections that seem to be so vital in the book publishing world today.  I find it disconcerting that all of these marketing strategies I'm trying to learn to utilize take  time and creative energy away from the writing/caregiving/grandmothering/farming that my life is truly about nowadays.   

My creative muse is fed by time on the farm with my husband, John, but the stress of preparing for a recent book signing took me away from farm excursions and chores for two weeks.  As I fielded emails from my publisher, composed news releases, and set up for the book signing I felt fragmented and stressed.  It reminded me of a scene from the final Twilight movie.  Newly transformed Bella is being instructed on how to act like a human.  She receives so many instructions from so many people that she ends up looking somewhat like a comic book character as she follows each command in quick succession. 

That's how I feel. 

I'm praying today for wisdom about how to allot my daily writing time efficiently!