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!