I’ve “Caught” my “Breath!”

Last week I told you about a new book coming out by Laura Purdie Salas, titled Catch Your Breath: Writing Poignant Poetry, and I said I couldn’t wait to see it, as I had a poem included in it.

Well, guess what just showed up in my mailbox!

Catch Your Breath arrived

Laura has done an outstanding job breaking down poetic theory and elements into easy-to-read language, dedicating a short chapter to each including rhyming, poetic forms, alliteration/internal rhyme, and even some help on getting published.

Throughout the book, sample poems help to elucidate the lessons. For instance, one of the two poems of mine Laura includes is a haiku I wrote a few years ago (originally published by the Young Adult Review Network) that Laura used as an example of alliteration:

Sparrow sweetly sings
melancholy melody;
her mate, on the ground.

– © 2011 Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

Another poem of mine can be found under the “Sharing Your Work” chapter, and is >ahem< a “found” poem! Culled from various voiceover websites, I originally shared this last spring during National Poetry Month:

Voice

Expressing unspoken thoughts
and burning desire,
a voice that is not part of the narrative
pauses for a breath;
the essential commands
and
extreme situations
still seem confusing.
Don’t get discouraged.
Slow down,
evaluate your work,
and take your time
through talent,
steely focus,
and faith
to change the world.

– © 2014 Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

Catch Your Breath coverWritten with young women and girls in mind, but suitable for anyone, Catch Your Breath: Writing Poignant Poetry is a handy reference tool for those learning the craft of poetry.

Poets whose work you’ll find inside this book include J. Patrick Lewis, Kate Coombs, David Harrison, Marilyn Singer, Nikki Grimes, Amy Ludwing VanDerwater, Diane Mayr, and even Emily Dickenson, among others. My thanks to Laura for allowing me to be part of this!

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New book for students on writing poetry – and honored to be a part of it!

This past Friday was a crazy kind of day. One of those roller-coaster-of-emotion days.

First, I learned that I was one of the featured writers on the popular children’s literature blog, Jama’s Alphabet Soup. Jama was celebrating The Poetry Friday Anthology of Celebrations (of which I’m a contributor) and she spotlighted my poem, “Picky Eater” along with a couple of recipes from me.

That was good.

I then spent most of the morning running errands while listening to the 5-year-old and 2-year-old crying, screaming, or fighting. We finally get home and my sweet, loveable 2-year-old proceeds to take off her dirty diaper and toss it on the FLIPPIN’ STOVE.

Not good.

Once she was in for her nap, I got the really good news: I received notice that the latest book in which I have a poem included is now available!

Catch Your Breath coverIt’s called Catch Your Breath: Writing Poignant Poetry (Capstone Press, Aug. 1, 2015) by author/poet Laura Purdie Salas and is designed to help students learn to write poetry. I’m very honored to be one of a select few children’s writers – like David Harrison, Marilyn Singer, J. Patrick Lewis, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Diane Mayr, Kelly Fineman, and Kate Coombs – whose poetry has been included as examples.

The nice thing about this book is that it’s not a typical, stuffy “here’s how you write poetry” kind of textbook; it’s a contemporary explanation of what poetry is, how to get into it, and suggestions and mentor texts on how to go about writing it. At only 64 pages, it’s an easy read, yet indispensable for a young, blossoming poet-to-be.

So just to break it down – for my sake, honestly, more than yours – here’s the list of children’s books in which you’ll find my work:

Lullabye cover Dear Tomato cover PFAC-front-cover-Nov-30-WEB-jpeg-705x1030 Catch Your Breath cover
………….NG Book of Nature Poetry cover  One Minute & Flashlight - blank

I’ve thanked you before, but I’ll thank you again for your support…even if it’s simply subscribing to this blog or just reading it occasionally, you’re helping me develop my writing, grow as a children’s author, and – to be perfectly frank – build an audience.

You’re also reassuring me that there are folks out there willing to read what I crank out each week, and I cannot overstate the value in that alone. So thanks for coming this far with me, and I hope you stick around!

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Poetry Friday: “Shoreline Sunrise”

poetryfridaybutton-fulllEver since the family spent a week at York Beach, Maine, I’ve had the ocean on my mind. Then again, I have the ocean on my mind every day of every summer! Which explains today’s poem.

(By the way, if you missed this past Tuesday’s post about why I’m glad I’m not “lucky”…I hope you’ll take a few moments to check it out HERE!)

Shoreline Sunrise”

Seaweed strands
dance in the tidewater,
following the lead
of the undertow, while into
……churning
………………surf
a hermit crab scurries
as if he knows
……something
is about to happen.

– © 2015 Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

Catherine at Reading to the Core is hosting Poetry Friday today, so rest assured there’s lots more poetry to be found!

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The importance of avoiding luck

I have a confession: I hate the game of Monopoly.

Actually, I don’t hate the game itself – I just hate playing it. I used to like it, when I was a kid: all the property I got to amass, the colorful cards I got to collect, the buildings I could put up.

And truth be told, all that money-changing was pretty good math practice.

But here’s the problem: I rarely won. And it’s not that I’m a sore loser or anything. It’s just that no matter what I did or how I tried to play the game, a single roll of the dice would inevitably upend my entire game – and I became frustrated.

As an adult, I now realize that for all its real-life street references and corporate wheeling-dealing…Monopoly is ultimately a game of chance.

And when it comes to relying on luck, I suck.

Talent can be learned, skill can be developed

If it’s an endeavor that requires skill – whether it’s Trivial Pursuit, soccer, or writing – I have no problems. I can learn, I can develop, I can compete…and hopefully succeed a few times. Even card games like poker or rummy, which are based on the luck of the draw, require at least some skill in determining how to play each hand.

I’m ok with that.

My problem is having to rely on pure luck to help me win. If I have to do that, I lose, every time.

Let’s see if we can find a common theme, shall we?

1) When I first began doing voiceover work, I learned about the industry through attending workshops, corresponding via LinkedIn groups, and connecting with others already ID-10084724 (Mic)in the business. I paid attention to how I was delivering lines and would redo them if I felt they weren’t exactly right. I set up a website and began marketing myself.

I would audition and audition and audition, and continually try to get better and better. After a few years of doing small gigs, I eventually got to the point where I was providing voice work for places like HBO Comedy, Muzak, and Symantec.

2) When I decided to make a concerted effort to go beyond my adult poetry and become a published children’s writer, I looked around for information on how to make that happen.  A friend suggested joining an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators) writer’s group, which I did. I also went to SCBWI conferences, took tons of workshops, and went out of my way to meet as many established (and developing) writers and poets as I could, via Facebook and Twitter.

I wrote, wrote, and wrote…and strove to get better. Eventually, I connected with folks like Lin Oliver from SCBWI, poetry anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins, editor Rebecca Davis of Boyd’s Mills Press, and Charles “Father Goose” Ghigna, who all encouraged me in their own ways. Between this year and next, I’ll have 9 poems in 7 boyds logodifferent publications (books/magazines), and my debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyd’s Mills Press), has a planned Fall 2017 release date.

3) As you may recall me mentioning a few times here, I tore my ACL (among other things) in my right knee a little over a year and a half ago. I had been playing soccer, and took a wrong turn and completely ripped the knee ligaments apart. Following my reconstruction surgery in March 2014, I spent the next 12 months doing rehabilitation – stretching, flexing, bending, turning – with plans of getting back on the field.

It wasn’t until earlier this summer I was able to play again (just some friendly rec games to start out), but I still took it easy, making sure I knew how my knee was going to handle the stress. Each week I played I could feel the knee and leg getting better, and now the last two games I’ve played I’ve had more confidence in running and cutting, better ball control, and have even scored 2 goals in 2 games.

You don’t need to be a genius…

…to understand the thread running through these three scenarios.

None of them had anything to do with luck!

I got the HBO Comedy gig because the producers liked my audition the best out of all the others.

I’m back on the soccer field because I spent over a year exercising and prepping.

And I signed my book deal with Boyd’s Mills Press because a) the editor thought my manuscript was well-written, b) I had developed a relationship with that editor over the previous three years, and c) I had initially met that editor courtesy of an introduction by Mr. Hopkins, whom I had met a year earlier and who became a mutual friend and confidante.

Luck…has been nowhere to be found in any of this.

No good without the bad

I read the audition script exactly the way the producers wanted it to be read. I took the time to rehabilitate my knee over the course of a year-plus. I made the effort to learn about the children’s literature world, and tenaciously kept writing and submitting manuscripts.

I don’t see where luck had any role whatsoever. Sure, one could say I’m lucky I didn’t tear my other knee, or that I’m lucky I came across Mr. Hopkins or Ms. Davis. But that’s not really true.

ID-10056952 (soccer ball)If I’m going to assume I was blessed with good luck, I need to recognize the existence of bad luck, as well. If my latest picture book manuscript doesn’t get picked up, is that bad luck? If I fail an audition, is that bad luck? If I succumb to some other injury of the soccer field, is that bad luck?

Of course not. These things happen. Manuscripts get rejected, auditions get passed over, and wives beat their husbands senseless if they injure themselves one more time.

Oops – sorry, that last one is just my personal situation.

Seriously, though – if we are going to recognize that good luck and bad luck have roles in our lives, what’s the point of trying to make things better? We’ll never know how much good luck or bad luck we’ll have, we’ll never know when one of them is going to strike, we’ll never know if what we succeeded at or failed at was our own fault or just “dumb luck.”

Most of us, I’m sure, will say we owe whatever success we have to hard work, determination, and perseverance – and of course, a certain amount of skill. As our third U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson, once said, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

Personally, I find that the harder I work, the better I become and the more opportunities come my way, period.

Now who’s up for a little Apples to Apples?

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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Interview with children’s poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich

I have been a fan of Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s work ever since I began striving in earnest toward my goal of becoming a published children’s writer, so I’m thrilled to present this post today!

Rebecca has a way of writing that simultaneously paints a familiar picture while touching the reader in a new way. We recently had an online chat about writing, inspiration, collaboration – and a similar start to our careers!

But before we begin, a little background:

REBECCA headRebecca grew up in the Midwest exploring trails, reading comic books, making paper dolls, and building snow forts. She was a good student in school…but by her own account, not a perfect one. Although she loved reading and writing, numbers (ie, math!) was a bit of a challenge.

She attended Indiana University where she studied creative writing, art history and anthropology while working in the student library. After college she held many jobs: working in a department store, for a real estate firm, a state representative, and in public relations. After her children were born she decided that writing for children would be her life’s work – although that took many years to achieve, as you’ll see from the interview.

RKD - CraneRebecca is the author of titles such as What Can A Crane Pick Up? (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014), which received a *starred* review from Publishers Weekly; What is Science? (Henry Holt and Co., 2006), an AAAS Subaru SB&F prize finalist; Bella and Bean (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009), an SCBWI Golden Kite Honor; and Grumbles From The Forest; Fairy Tale Voices with a Twist (WordSong, 2013), co-authored with Jane Yolen.

She speaks at conferences, retreats, libraries, and schools across the country to teachers, aspiring writers, poets, and students of all ages. Her books have received the Gold Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award as well as a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the year, and her work has been featured on television programs like Reading Rainbow and Between the Lions.

She lives in the Midwest with her husband and her four young grandchildren live nearby.

First of all, thanks so much for taking the time, Rebecca! There is so much to talk about, but I would be remiss if I neglected to share a little “mutual experience” of sorts that you and I  share…and that is that we both can say our very first books were published by the good folks at Boyd’s Mills Press!

REBECCA KAI DOTLICH - Sweet DreamsYours was Sweet Dreams of the Wild, a bedtime book of poems published in 1995…and since then, you’ve had approximately 30 books you’ve authored, co-authored, or have in the pipeline, and you’ve had poems selected to be in about 100 anthologies. So congratulations on all your successes!

I heard the good news Matt, and send you an abundance of congratulations! Each and every book is exciting in its own way every single time, yet that first book, that first sale, will always be something so very special.

Who – or what – inspires you? And how do you know when a piece of writing is complete? 

I’ve always been inspired by words noodled together like a puzzle; words that send my head into the clouds or my heart thumping or my dreams dreaming. Since I can remember, lyrical language and metaphor have been somewhat like a hobby for me. When I came across words or phrases or metaphors I loved, I collected them by writing them down in notebooks.  Sometimes I’d paste photos to go with them.

Rebecca’s newest! (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014)

My grandparents and my parents inspired me in every way. My big brother had a sea of books on his shelves, on his bed, in front of his nose. He’d read me excerpts when I didn’t even understand what I was hearing. He’d throw words into conversation to stump me, and when I didn’t know what the word was, he’d tell me to look it up. So I did. Probably he nudged me to feel the wonder of books and what they held inside.

And I was initially inspired to write poetry for children when my own children were small and I was going through a hard time in my life, and pouring over poems about puddles and umbrellas, giants and mermaids, skies and stars and snowmen seemed to soothe my soul.

Two books that initially inspired me to write poetry for children were Poems and Rhymes, a book from the Childcraft library, and Side by Side compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins. And by the way, LBH has always inspired me to dig deeper just when I think I can’t.

So at what point do you decide a poem is finally done?

Can you ever really know when the writing is complete? I don’t believe so. That’s the magic of creativity. It’s a feeling of finally letting go, of sensing you’ve wrapped up a moment or an idea or a package of words as tight and as telling as you can.  For the moment. It’s like saying how do you know when you’re done staring at the sky.  You don’t. You just feel it’s time to get up. To move on. Time stopped for that small bit of time, and held some form of magic or fascination or angst or play or joy in your soul, and hopefully will again.

Do you share your poems or manuscript texts with anyone before submitting?

For the most part I don’t; I am a pretty solitary writer and submitter. When I began years (and years) ago, I knew no one to share with and of course it was way before computers and internet, so I just happily read, studied and wrote. But having said that, there are times now that I do share poems and manuscripts back and forth with just a few poet and author friends who I respect and trust. I am also lucky enough to have an agent, and a few really special editors who are in my corner.

How did your career progress from writing poems and picture books to writing things like books for HarperCollins’ I Can Read and Growing Tree series, which – while creative – are more educational in nature? How does a poet make that leap?

REBECCA KAI DOTLICH - RoundThe shape books for The Growing Tree series started out actually as a poem.  I wrote What is Round, a list poem, simply because I had always loved (and still do) things like marbles and beads and coins and all things round, and I had intended to send it to a magazine.  My agent decided to send it to Harper for the Growing Tree series.  They bought it right away and gave me an additional two book contract to write Square and Triangle.  If I remember right, Away We Go was bought then as an additional and different book for the series (again, a poem that I had written about transportation, with thoughts of sending it to a magazine.)

REBECCA KAI DOTLICH - P&PNow the I Can Read (Peanut & Pearl) is a different story.  I had always wanted to write an I Can Read book. I fell in love, years ago, with Frog and Toad.  Who didn’t?  I read them to my children when they were young. So I had studied the structure, word count, page breaks, etc., on and off for a long time.  They seem simple, but they really aren’t.  I’d like to write more.

Are there any genres of writing that intrigue you, but that you have yet to tackle?

Yes. I am working on a novel in verse and have ideas for a chapter book series.  But poetry is (as my granddaughter would say) my favorite and my best.

Do you have a process for figuring out what you’re going to write and how you’re going to write it? That is, if a subject is a poem or a picture book, and how you’ll construct it?

I wish I did have a process. I can’t say that I do. Things just kind of happen. A seed of an idea, a lyrical line, a phrase, and I let it spill onto the page and see where it takes me. Then when I get the bones of it down, I take a look and see if I want or need to mold it differently.

Over the years, what part of writing has gotten easier for you, and what has gotten more difficult?

Nothing has gotten easier.  Finding time has gotten more difficult.

REBECCA KAI DOTLICH - Grumbles

You collaborated with Jane Yolen to write Grumbles From the Forest, a collection of poems about the secret thoughts of fairy tale characters. How do you come up with fresh ideas for collections such as this, and what is it like to write a book with someone who is half a country away from you?

To be honest, I didn’t come up with the idea, Jane did. Sounded great to me; I’m always on board with anything that involves fairy tales.  I loved them as a young girl, and still do.  We both thought putting a twist on them by way of poems would bring new readers to the tales.  Working together was easy  because of the internet. Much easier than it would have been by letter writing before email. We had ideas and first drafts and revisions flying back and forth constantly.

REBECCA KAI DOTLICH - One DaySpeaking of collaborations, tell us about your upcoming new book, One Day, The End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories (Boyd’s Mills Press, 2015). This must have required a great deal of collaborating with illustrator Fred Koehler, yes?

No collaborating at all! I didn’t know Fred. I wrote the (short) and spare picture book knowing an illustrator would add layers to it, and possibly even take over the book in his or her own way, which I expected and delighted in.

That’s fascinating to me, because it looks like the type of book that would have necessitated the author conspire with the illustrator.

Artists, and what they bring to the table, fascinate me.  It’s magical to see your words brought to life in a new, different, clever and colorful way.  My editor, Rebecca Davis, brought Fred Koehler on board and gave him full reign to add his own view of the stories.  He had a different vision that I had, but that is usually a very good thing!

Sometimes I’ll get an idea for a poem or book, but can’t flesh it out for weeks or months or even longer. Are there any subjects or ideas you’d like to tackle in a poem or book, but just haven’t yet?

Absolutely.  I have drawers and files with parts and pieces and beginnings. Some take months and some take years and some never do get fleshed out. I have a few ideas on the back burner but since they are just ideas, I probably will let them simmer awhile.

In some ways, it’s become harder for a new writer to break into children’s literature and get published; technology has allowed more and more people to share their work via blogs and self-publishing, so making a mark for oneself can be difficult with so much competition. Conversely, though, technology has also allowed more people to learn the craft and be able to connect with editors and agents – so in some ways, it’s easier. What are your thoughts on the changes in the industry, as you’ve witnessed them over the past 20 or so years?

The opportunity to publish is definitely easier.  My younger self can’t imagine *connecting* with, or *chatting* with an editor all the way in New York City. Goodness, one lived in Indiana or Montana or Texas and sent a manuscript with an SASE and hoped for a postcard months and months later.  There was no connecting until the connection. Hard to imagine now.

Finally, the obvious last question is…what’s next??

REBECCA KAI DOTLICH - Race CarOne Day, The End (Boyd’s Mills Press, 2015), will be out this fall along with Race Car Count (Henry Holt, 2015)illustrated by Michael Slack.  Then next year will be The Knowing Book (Boyd’s Mills Press, 2016), illustrated by Matthew Cordell – a picture book that is closest to my heart – and a poetry collection in the Grumbles series, Grumbles from the Town (Boyd’s Mills Press, 2016)illustrated by Angela Matteson. Soon after, What Is Math? (Henry Holt and Co.), will be added to the What Is Series (What Is Science?).

I’m also finishing up a new picture book to be published by Boyd’s Mills Press about a young boy who imagines himself a wizard at bedtime and another poetry collection, which I’m excited about. I bet I’ve forgotten something, but anyone who knows me won’t be surprised.

Can you share your favorite self-penned poem here?

Favorite is a hard concept to nail down.  It seems cliché to say I don’t have a favorite, but I don’t.  I have a few favorites though, and one would be a poem that conjures up the memory of my mom tucking me in all those years ago – published in Hopkins’ anthology, Song and Dance (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 1997):

TUCKING-IN SONG

Down the narrow hall she came,

a symphony of jingle bells

as tiny

shiny

silver charms

waltzed like wind-chimes

on her arm,

and haunting notes

of tinkling tin

played music on

her perfumed skin . . .

when mama came to tuck me in.

– © Rebecca Kai Dotlich, reprinted with permission; all rights reserved

(I still love and wear charm bracelets, not only for the clink, clang and jingle, but because they remind me of mom.)

I love those “waltzing wind-chimes” and the “tinkling tin!” Well, thank you so much, Rebecca, for taking the time to chat…it’s very much appreciated, and I wish you much success with all your new books!

And for anyone who is interested in learning more about Rebecca, visit her website HERE!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: Constancy…and some inconsistency

Welcome to the newly waxed, buffed, and polished Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme!

poetryfridaybutton-fulllAfter 256 posts, 29,560 views and 3,953 comments over the past 3 years, I felt a little remodeling of “Triple-R” was in order. Hard to believe, but it was exactly 3 years ago in 2012 that I began this blog – something I’d wanted to do for quite awhile – and today it has grown from one follower (Jen, my wife!) to 383 followers!

Now granted, that may not seem like a huge number of people compared to some of the tremendous blogs out there, but I’m happy to see it getting close to the 500 mark…and when it does, I plan on having a little celebration! So if you know anyone who might appreciate this blog, please let them know about it.

I have a number of cool things planned for upcoming posts, including an interview with poet/author Rebecca Kai Dottlich, another edition of Poetry Cubed, and big news about my forthcoming debut picture book, Flashlight Night (2017, Boyd’s Mills Press), so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any of it!

So the blog has gone through a transformation – it’s clean, contemporary, and more professional-looking. There’s the inconsistency for you. As for the constancy…well, as you may know, I share the following poem every August around this time because my wedding anniversary is coming up this weekend, and it was part of my wedding vows.
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Matt&Jen - WeddingIt was actually my very first poetry post on this blog, and only my second post ever, following my introduction. This is a traditional Elizabethan sonnet and no, it doesn’t read as a contemporary poem; it was deliberately written in a sort of old-fashioned, classic sort of style. Looking back on it, there are things I would have changed, edited, or revised – but I was under a deadline – the wedding date wasn’t going to change!

Unlike my other poems, “Constancy” will never be put through revisions.  These were the words I spoke to my wife on August 10, 2008 as part of my vows, and are as unalterable as my love and gratitude for her.

Constancy
For Jennifer

How many have, before me, tried in vain
To capture beauty, constancy, and love
Through fluent phrase, in happiness and pain,
And simile of summer, star, or dove?
Their words so eloquent, imagery lush –
In perfect imperfection testify,
For seasons change, the steadfast heavens rush
To swirl about themselves, and doves will die.
How best to show the one whom I adore
The fullness of my amorosity?
I fail to find a finer metaphor
Than that true love which you have shown to me.
The poets fail! Their thoughts do not dismiss;
‘Tis better they compare their love to this.

© 2008, Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

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Tabatha is hosting Poetry Friday today at The Opposite of Indifference, so be sure to visit her blog for all of today’s links!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Coming soon…

ID-10072626 (construction)

OK, so it’s not QUITE that big a project…but a new, improved “Radio, Rhythm, & Rhyme” is coming this Friday!

After all, after three years, don’t you think it’s time for a bit of a change?

Stay tuned!

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SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)If you find something interesting in this blog – and based on the law of averages, you should be able to find SOMETHING in here – I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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