The “Creative” Process

Kickstarter update: Yesterday was a slow day! But the support of my friends and family for this project (The History of Depression Era Outlaws book set) has been both encouraging and heartwarming.

Wall of Gratitude: Sonja Randerson, Wyoming Irwin, Evan Rege,  Kathy and Dave Rege, Chris Toves, Teresa Knapp, Janeen Mears, Pam Kahl, and Lisa Poncia. Special thanks to Jonathan Meek, my daughter’s boyfriend, for being such an awesome dude.

Before I FINALLY get around to my experiences trying to get ready for publication…

It makes sense to explore how I got to this place. This place where I felt inspired enough to leave a secure job that made me very happy. This place where I couldn’t NOT do it.

First of all, I am an odd duck. I am left handed and just the most not-creative person artistically. I don’t know if it is because of my bizarre childhood, if it arises out of my teaching experiences, or if it is just down to my personality, but I find crafting educational materials to be my creative jam. When I get on a roll and create amazing it just feels like home.

I only taught older kids for the last 6 years. Before that, I did the littles, working on pre-reading, simple number concepts and such. Transitioning to more academic content blew my mind! Like, kids can read and stuff!

In my Learning Center classroom, though, I observed the struggles my students had around reading. Not just learning how to read, but finding books for independent reading that were interesting to them, at their independent reading level, and developmentally appropriate. I became obsessed with books and curated my library with everything new as it came out. But it still wasn’t enough. There is an inadequate supply of nonfiction material. The topics are repetitive and restricted. Kids would make very reasonable requests for books on, say, trucks. Or spaceships. Or dirtbikes. If I could find anything on the topic, it would be 1 measly book. So that is where the idea for books published in sets on a common topic came from. But it was just a vague feeling of discomfort.

Enter Lauren Tarshis. You may know her as the author of the books in the I Survived… series. But she is so much more than that! Over time I pieced together the quilt of her career and was just gobsmacked.

I ordered a Scholastic product called Storyworks Jr. as a supplemental Language Arts material to use with my kiddos. I noticed that she authored the nonfiction passages in the magazine and let it pass by. One day I put up a video read-aloud version of an article she wrote (Killer Smog? Mt. St. Helens? I can’t remember the first…) There she was! Reading the article, showing pictures and videos with the passage, and talking about her research for the project. I finally got that she does these research trips, writes an I Survived book about it, writes different levels of a nonfiction article for Storyworks, makes these videos, and… I just about died.

I don’t know how she came to be the queen of this amazing job, but boy do I want to do that! So Lauren Tarshis showed me what is possible in a career for an author beyond just writing books. That I am so a fan of the Storyworks magazines just adds to my admiration.

I think I will talk about my frustrations with curriculum another time. It is just too depressing. But to summarize, children with IEPs receiving Specialized Academic Instruction (SAI) have been proven to be seriously behind academically. It’s why and how they get an IEP. We have also demonstrated that something in their developmental process is impeding the learning process for them.

Then, we have coming down from on high – in this case, the State Superintendent of Education – that children with disabilities should be taught using the same materials as those in regular education. This is a whole separate blog post [rant], but in short, this has spiraled out of control in America to the point where schools are closing Special Education classrooms, children are placed in inappropriate classrooms and denied the services they really need. All in the name of “Educational Equity.” Deep breathe! Yes, I will talk about that later.

On a happier note… My husband and I started watching this PBS show called History Detectives. We learned the most fascinating and obscure stuff about history! I started gobbling up American Experience, Drunk History, and Bay Area Revelations. Then, I listened to the Hamilton soundtrack. And it was like the sun came out. Not because I didn’t know the history, but because for the first time I could see it in 3D.

We are taught history as a linear timeline, usually about discrete events or geographical areas. Hamilton illustrated for me how interconnected important historical events and figures are. I never realized that all of the founding fathers of America were friends. They were real people who knew each other, not figureheads lined up in order of their presidency.  They were also flawed human beings, just like we are. And no one, much less kids in school, are really taught about history from this perspective.

Considering this approach to history, and all of the obscure facts that are buried in some archive somewhere, I developed a vision of hundreds (or maybe thousands) of nonfiction readers, published in related sets, written at appropriate levels for struggling readers. Interesting people, places, and things can provide enough books to last kids through their earlier reading stages. Events happened, the ball started rolling, and here I am! Now hopefully I can turn that vision into reality!

Some Days are Just Awesome

Kickstarter update: Since yesterday (thanks again, mom!) I have gotten 2 pledges from unnamed donors, and one from my dear friend Wyoming Irwin.  Thank you, thank you, thank you! I posted my first update, and am feeling remarkable!

Jesse’s house is still standing for now, after the fire in Bachelor Valley really stalled for most of yesterday. I need to find out if fire crews were working in there because it was looking so bad and then didn’t get worse. Well, yesterday anyway.

Another amazing thing that happened – I stumbled upon the Dallas Municipal Archives yesterday and reached out about using some of their original photos for Bonnie and Clyde and Floyd Hamilton (which I think I might make the 2nd book now).  This morning I got the response that their use rates are INCREDIBLY CHEAP! Now, I have emailed them back just to make sure it’s true, but after dealing with Getty and Associated Press ($$$$), I feel so grateful and excited!

The biggest challenge in this process is staying positive when the going gets tough – it is easy to lose sight of the confidence I have, the expertise in teaching and child development, and the vision I have to create a truly exceptional book series. Add in a dash of difficult life events, and I admit I have wobbled a bit the last couple of days!

It is 9 am in California, but I’m calling it – today is going to be a good day!

Is This Ironic?

Kickstarter update:  Thanks to my first contributor, a total stranger named Sonja Randerson from Kona, Hawaii! Just kidding, she’s my mom 🙂

It has been a slow start, but I went on today and added some pictures to my campaign story. Hopefully, things will pick up quickly. This is so stressful! *Deep breath* And exciting!

I wrote in my last post about how difficult it is to ask for financial support for a project fairly soon after an environmental disaster, referring to the Sonoma County fires last October.  The same day of the post (last Friday), the Carr fire was going strong in Redding California, and 2 separate fires broke out around the border of Mendocino and Lake Counties about 90 minutes north of me.

By lunchtime Saturday,  my daughter and her boyfriend were evacuating from Bachelor Valley to my house. They have a car, their phones and computers, 2 rats, a snake, and a lizard. That’s all that would fit in their vehicle.

We had a fun sleepover weekend until last night when I realized that in all likelihood their house is going to burn down. I couldn’t get to sleep, and have kept the live fire tracker open all day, kind of obsessed with the destruction that is going on up there. Mother Nature is not playing around. The fire keeps getting closer to her house (it’s maybe 2 miles away), while just obliterating everything in this once bucolic little valley.

This puts the Kickstarter in a whole different perspective for me. It is not a Go Fund Me in any way. In fact, I will not get any financial benefit from it beyond the ability to publish these 5 books. But when I was in need and had no money for illustrations, who came to my rescue? My daughter did. She has been absolutely lovely to work with during this process, even as I funnel more illustrations her way when I discover a photo isn’t realistically usable.

So this Kickstarter campaign is now for her, because getting this book set published is going to establish her as an illustrator and provide her with a reference to start her career. Given what it’s going to take for these two 21 year olds to rebuild their life together, it’s the very least I can do!

My Kickstarter is live!

Here it is!

Update: Mike told me the link wasn’t working on this page last night, it just plays the video. Hopefully this works 🙂

I have a cousin by marriage that was a part of a VERY successful Kickstarter campaign a couple of years ago, and that is the only reason I know this platform exists! But what a great idea, to help people launch their creative ideas…

As the costs of this project have added up, and my saved income rapidly dwindles, I quickly recognized that I need help producing these books. I decided to start the Kickstarter campaign because it can get my first 5 book set published, which will hopefully create a funding cycle that will sustain itself.

I have been very conflicted about this – going hat in hand looking for money is not my usual jam. Last October, Santa Rosa, Kenwood, Sonoma, Glen Ellen, and Napa were devestated by crazy wildfires that destroyed many lives and dreams. In tandem with that, the housing market in this area has been bonkers, and only got worse after the fires. I do not at all want to burden people who are struggling.  I guess my hope is that this campaign will get shared around, and be discovered by those with the resources to help.

I have spent weeks working on the campaign, mainly because of the anxiety and exposure of starting a huge project like this. Also, Kickstarter makes it pretty clear you should include a video :/

Once I accepted that I needed a video, I felt like I was going to have a heart attack for about two weeks.  And I love public speaking! Watching myself talk, not so much.  My daughter and her boyfriend were in town yesterday, so I conscripted them into heading down to my old classroom. I didn’t prepare a script, and the video performance is NOT perfect. It does convey my nerves perfectly, but also my mission, I think.

With this huge “to do” crossed off my list, I am ready to start the submission process for my first book, Bonnie & Clyde. But getting this approved and live today has been a huge milestone. Fingers crossed!

I will use this blog page to give updates about how things are going, and to recognize contributors to this process. Stay tuned!



I used that word in a conversation the other day.

Everyone stared at me. I think it’s a word! Meaning “diverging from, but related to, the current topic.”

I really have so much more to write about this process. My dreams of an umbrella company of educational products, designed for learning disabled students. The offshoot, The History of book sets. So much.

But first, can we discuss how people work at home?! Being a teacher for so long, I just realized this summer how regimented my life was. I knew when I could eat. I knew when I could pee. I knew when I needed to teach kids. Even longer term events are hard-wired into teachers’ brains – report cards, check! IEPs, check! Open house, check!

I think in the past I have hit summer and just marinated. Oh, I have a list of things to do! They just never have gotten done. Vacation, family time, reading, gardening – it all took up all of my time.

This summer I have been very stern with myself (for about half of each day). I figured, “This is not summer break! You are now self-employed!” But how do you self-employ when there is no outside regulation device?

I still get up very early and have coffee. I have played around with what works best to stay productive. If I stay in bed and work on the computer, chances are I will never put on pants or brush my teeth. I have been dabbling in some freelance curriculum development and education-related writing that has helped with grocery money. But I’m always thinking, “Just a little bit longer and you can be done for the day!” Then it’s noon and I’m not wearing pants.

If I work out first, walk the dog, start a yard project or a house project, I wake up out of a daze some time later wondering where the day went. Sometimes I forget to eat lunch. All because the kids aren’t going out to recess to remind me it’s eating time.

So to all of the teachers gearing up for back to school, go get ’em! To any of you who pretend to work at home, please send help! I’m still working on finding a balance.

Not For the Faint of Heart

The process

of moving from being an individual with an idea for a book to an author ready for publication is a trip.

One option is to hire an agent, send out query letters, and try to get signed by a major publisher.

My version of that was to Google Scholastic Books Publishing. My idea for my book format is slim, 6 by 9 inch, colorful paperbacks. Right up their alley!

Now, I do not agree with the monopoly they have on the educational distribution market. But I do appreciate the wide distribution market and often super low prices. After all, my goal is to get my books into the hands of struggling readers and special education teachers, right? Good plan.

Prison wall in cloudy day.Scholastic Publishing is apparently a locked vault inaccessible via my poor, lowly, Google. And that was as far as I was willing to go to put myself out there. No pavement pounding for me. I’m never going to be a person to ask others for approval. Rejection sucks!

INSTEAD of finding Scholastic Publishing

a page popped up for a self-publishing company. I hit the “I’m interested” button and made contact. Sometime that weekend, I spoke to someone called a “Publishing Consultant.” I pitched my idea of doing a bookset of, say, 5 books on a theme. Her reaction was the opposite of rejection, and her enthusiasm was what I was hoping for. Part of that is her job to get people to sign up, but it also felt genuine and gave me the boost I needed. To get out my credit card.

Did I mention that I had also already turned in my resignation from my job? The kind of job where I get paychecks? I did! Trial and error have taught me that I cannot teach special education full time and accomplish anything else. Some nights getting dinner made is a challenge! So I’m struggling with committing to this huge (really very big) expense while not actually making any money. Ultimately, I got my husband on board and decided to do it. I’m not getting any younger! Within 5 days of indicating my interest I was signed up to publish a set of 5 books.

As you may be able to see from the picture attached to this post, I have a VERY long list of ideas for book sets that I have been adding to for a couple of years. Originally, the list was on a napkin started when I had an idea at a restaurant I needed to remember. Sadly, I don’t remember exactly what my first idea was. I do remember the story of JM Barrie was one of the first, after seeing the musical Finding Neverland. I was also fascinated by the story of Clark Gable and Lenny Bluett, who worked together on civil rights issues in Hollywood.

Eventually, my napkin filled up and also got wet. Thus the transfer to paper, which has also filled up at this point. I also have an army of post-its from ideas generated while away from my yellow legal pad.  My point is that I want to highlight under-represented moments in history, accomplishments of diverse people and obscure events not a part of our regular historical dialogue. Both because it is interesting and necessary, and because THERE IS SO MUCH CONTENT! I can write hundreds of books! And that is my goal, to create abundant content for children to read.

The problem is, most of my themes or topics quickly multiply into many, many books and my first project is for only 5 books. So somehow, I ended up going with 5 books about white men. The History of… Depression Era Outlaws will be my inaugural project. Like I said, it has been a trip. Stay tuned for more of the subsequent events in my life trying to write my first book. You’ll be glad you did. It’s hilarious – in retrospect.

It All Begins…

I am a 45 year old Special Education Teacher. I have zero social media presence, but I can tell by observing the way things work that I need to change that to be considered relevant.

While I was working

teaching mostly 3rd through 6th graders in a “blended services” Learning Center (all Specialized Academic Instruction in one place), I had a series of epiphanies. You know, like how life sends lessons your way when you’re not in a position to do anything about them? Over time, these feeling built up until they would no longer be ignored.  I felt that there were important elements missing in the products available to teach Special Education, and that I might just be able to help plug some of those holes. At the end of last school year, I resigned my teaching position to see if I can make a go of this.

My dream is chasing me!

Core Align educational products is my idea for an umbrella company to house books and curriculum specially designed to ALIGN with the Common Core Standards, but be ACCESSIBLE to children with various learning-related disabilities.  My first project is “The History of…” nonfiction book sets. It turns out I am one person working alone, so I need to focus on one project at a time.

I have worked with such a variety of children over the course of my 14 year career! But in the last 5 years or so, I was moved by the children who found “nothing to read.”

I put countless hours and thousands of dollars into building the most robust classroom library around. I became an expert on readability and leveled my library into grouped reading ranges. I bought all of the new book series, popular graphic novels, and nonfictions readers as they came out. And still….

The problem became clear: most of my students were reading at a 2nd to 3rd grade level.

  1. Most of the material published at a 2nd to 3rd grade level appeals to… 2nd and 3rd graders. Don’t get me wrong! There are tons of awesome authors that got my kids started on the path of independent reading – Cynthia Rylant comes to mind because of her Mr. Putter and Tabby series and Henry and Mudge. But as my kids got older the subject matter became less interesting and, at times, insulting.
  2. Some of my students struggled to make progress, even through 5th and 6th grade. I once calculated that if a child read 5 books a week over the 40 weeks of a school year, they could easily read over 200 books a year. That’s not counting books read in class! If my 2nd – 3rd grade library holds 400 books, you can see the problem. After 2 years or so, a kid could have read ALL of the books available at their independent reading level!
  3. Many of my students had specialized interests, even at a young age. As mentioned earlier, the subject matter of lower-level books can be over simplified – puppies, kittens, fairies, Legos™, Flat Stanley… But I have had students in my class interested in farm equipment, vehicles, politics, history, and even wars. It makes sense to provide children with reading material that will inspire them to keep learning and feeling successful. Rather than censoring the material available that they can read themselves.

So, I am going to share my journey here – the road to trying to publish my 1st book set, the challenges of writing curriculum, and the political and bureaucratic road blocks facing education in general, and special education in particular right now.

Stay tuned!