The life of a picture book: celebrating ONE YEAR for “Flashlight Night”! (Plus GIVEAWAY!)

I make a living using my imagination.

Whether it’s a poem, a picture book, or even a blog post, I love to stretch my mind and see what kinds of unusual, surprising, and creative stories and images I can come up with.

But I have to admit…it is very, very hard for me wrap my head around the fact that my debut picture book is ONE YEAR OLD today!

Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills Press) was officially published on Sept. 19, 2017 – and I could never have imagined the response it would receive nationally. I knew I liked it, of course; I knew illustrator Fred Koehler had done a phenomenal job on his end, and I knew our editor, Rebecca Davis, had performed an amazing juggling act between the two of us – balancing my story with the story Fred was telling via his illustrations.

I also had no idea, once I completed the final draft, that it would even get picked up by a publisher; nor could I possibly fathom how long it would take to produce, once the contract was signed. It might be the book’s one-year birthday, but the idea for the book is four years old now! So to give you a little perspective on the life of a picture book, I thought I’d present a timeline of the life of Flashlight Night:

  • August, 2014: Staring at my car’s headlights while driving home late at night from an SCBWI Meet-Up in Westford, MA, the words, “Flashlight opens up the night” pop into my head. As I toss this phrase around in my head I eventually come up with the opening and closing of…something. A poem? A book? Nothing??
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  • Sept. 9, 2014: After a couple of weeks of writing and revising, I complete the final draft of Flashlight. (That’s right, no “Night.” It looked a little different then…
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  • Oct. 7, 2014: With a hope and a prayer (and crossed fingers) I send the manuscript off to Rebecca Davis, the editor at Boyds Mills Press. Rebecca had seen some of my previous poetry but had not purchased anything up to this point. Before I email the manuscript to her, I change the title to Flashlight Night, so that there is no confusion with another book, Flashlight (Chronicle), which had just been published the week before I wrote my own flashlight book! How’s THAT for timing, huh?
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  • Dec. 2014: The Flashlight Night manuscript is awarded the New England SCBWI’s Peg Davol Scholarship for unpublished authors and receives a critique from an established, published author.
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  • Jan. 16, 2015: Five days after my critique, I receive a call from Rebecca, telling me she and her editorial board all love the manuscript. I am elated – not just because I had finally sold a full-length book manuscript, but because, had I followed the critiquer’s suggestions, the book would not be the book it is today. Indeed, it might not have even gotten published!
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    This is why critiques can be helpful, but only if an author takes the advice that makes sense to him/her. If you have read Flashlight Night, compare my notes with the book itself, and note how far it deviates from all the recommendations I was given:
  • May 18, 2015: I sign the contract for Flashlight Night!
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  • June, 2015: After seeing his concept
    Image © 2015 Fred Koehler, all rights reserved, reprinted with permission (click to enlarge)

    for the book’s sub-narrative, which includes the flashlight beam illuminating the children’s adventure, Rebecca signs Fred Koehler to illustrate our book. She shares with me Fred’s initial sketch of what he’d like to do with the book, and we agree it’s ingenious. (By the way, Rebecca and I have already gone through four text revisions at this point – and more are on the way!)
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  • Spring, 2016:
    (click to enlarge)

    Fred takes a 2-week trip to the United Kingdom to sketch and photograph the countryside, the shipyard, the ocean, and museum artifacts in preparation. Much of what he sees – including the trail into the woods, the clipper ship, and the rocky arch where the Kraken hides – ends up in the book. I tell Fred that I should have taken the trip first, THEN written the book – what a sweet tax-write off!
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  • July-Dec. 2016: Dummies of the book continue to be put together and taken apart, revised and edited. By early Dec., we realize that my original ending,“all is still within, without,” is simply not going to work with Fred’s illustrations, so I change the line to “adventure lingers, stirs about.” (It’s called “collaboration,” folks!) By Dec. 14, we have what we believe is the final dummy version of the entire book, text and illustrations.
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  • March 2017: And now we have a cover! The colors are a little bolder than they will eventually be, but it looks great:

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  • March 6, 2017: I am asked to fill out a questionnaire with social media contacts, bookstore info, and other folks I know who might be able to help in the promotional effort. (Wow, I thought. Things are gettin’ real…)
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  • April 12, 2017: F&G’s arrive.
    (click to enlarge)

    Short for “folded and gathered,” F&G’s are printed up following approval of a book’s final proofs. They look exactly the way the book will look once it’s bound, yet allow publishers’ marketing and sales teams to mail the books to buyers and trade journals without the heavy cover…shipping costs can get pretty hefty, as you can imagine!
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  • April-May 2017: Promotions get underway: full-page display ads in industry catalogs, inclusion in the Boyds Mills Press’ catalog…things are DEFINITELY getting real now. It feels like there is a new surprise everyday!
       
  • May 26, 2017: We receive our first review, and it’s a whopper. Kirkus calls Flashlight Night a “rousing read” and awards it a coveted Starred Review. As blown away as I am at this news…I am now eager to learn what others think of it!
  • May 26, 2017: Flashlight Night flashlights arrive, to be distributed to librarians and book buyers across the country! Yes, May 26 was a good day.
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  • June 2, 2017: Representatives of Boyds Mills Press attend Book Expo America, where just about every book publisher is showing off their upcoming catalog. I nearly fall over when I see the banner:
  • June 26, 2017: Two days after my birthday, my author copies arrive. It was the best non-birthday birthday gift ever, in the history of ever.
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  • July-August 2017: The industry reviews start coming in! One after another, they sing the praises of our little book:  Publisher’s Weekly states that my text and Fred’s illustrations “don’t just lobby for children to read—they show how readers play;” The Horn Book calls Flashlight Night “an old-fashioned, rip-roaring imaginary adventure; and Booklist describes it as “imaginative,” “surprising,” and “fantastical.”
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  • Sept. 1, 2017: The School Library Journal reviews the book, calling the verse “incantatory.” The reviewer’s final verdict is glowing: “A simple idea that’s engagingly executed and would be an excellent, atmospheric read for sleepovers or backyard campouts. A good choice for most collections.” I’m particularly proud that the text is referred to as a poem…which is how it first came to be and the genre that got me into children’s writing in the first place.
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  • Sept. 7, 2017: The National Book Launch takes place at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA – just
    Photo courtesy of Josh Funk (click to enlarge)

    outside of Boston. Although the book doesn’t officially come out until Sept. 19, this date had been arranged earlier in the year, when we thought the book was going to be released earlier. It is a dual book launch with my friend and fellow author Carol Gordon Ekster, who was also celebrating the release of her new book. The event is well-attended, we sell lots of books, and I breathe a sigh of relief! It is the fist of many signings, and I can’t wait to continue the book tour throughout southern NH and northeastern MA.
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  • Sept. 19, 2017: Flashlight Night makes it debut in the world!! (And on International Talk Like a Pirate Day, no less – how more perfect could that be?!?) A huge blog tour helps support the promotional effort with interviews, giveaways, and lots of great press – including an appearance by Fred Koehler on KidLitTV. (Book signings, readings, and school visits, oh my!) More than THREE YEARS after I first started tossing words around in my head to create my story, anyone and everyone who wants to have a copy, can buy one anywhere. It still feels surreal.
     
      
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  • Sept. 22, 2017: Three days after its release – yes, a mere THREE DAYS after its release, Flashlight Night shows up on Amazon’s “Best Books for Kids” list:

    (and “Flashlight Night” is ON SALE right now!)
  • Sept. 26, 2017: Unbeknownst to the publisher, we receive a tremendously positive review from Shelf-Awareness, in which the reviewer compares our book – favorably! – to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Talk about compliments that can humble a person.
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  • Sept. 27, 2017: More publicity! This ad
    (click to enlarge)

    was for an email blast for the online book retailer Mackin. With so many positive reviews, our publisher wanted as many potential customers as possible to see them.
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  • Oct. 7, 2017: Illustrator Fred Koehler informs me that The Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, FL is installing an exhibit featuring his original artwork for Flashlight Night. Each piece is to be framed and mounted on the wall, along with my text, in such as way as to allow a viewer to follow the story page-by-page:

    Photo courtesy Fred Koehler
  • Nov. 2017: I discover that Flashlight Night is one of Amazon’s best-selling children’s books about libraries and reading…and my head swells a wee bit more.
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  • Dec., 2017: Another review and another (major) list! The review is by the School Library Connection, which also favorably compares the book to Wild Things, praising its “poetic rhyme” and “creative illustrations.” The list is the New York Public Library’s “Best Books for Kids 2017,” which also includes titles like Dan Santat’s incredible After the Fall (Roaring Brook Press) and the Margaret Wise Brown Prize-winning Things to Do (Chronicle Books) by my friend Elaine Magliaro. Shortly thereafter, Flashlight Night shows up as a NY Public Library Staff Pick, as well!
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  • Jan. 2018: Boyds Mills Press learns that the Kansas chapter of the NEA has selected Flashlight Night to be included in its 2018 Reading Circle Catalog, an honor I do not take lightly. We also continue discovering positive reviews from random kidlit, parenting, and educational bloggers, and I make a point to leave a comment on each one of them, thanking them for their support.
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  • March 20, 2018: One of the aforementioned bloggers, author Jen Betton, uses Flashlight Night as mentor text for discussing the interplay of text and illustration. The fact that anyone would use something I wrote to teach others how to write is an indescribable honor.
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  • March 23, 2018: I deposit my very first royalty check!
    That’s right…makin’ bank, baby!

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    Well, ok…it wasn’t QUITE this much. But I was thrilled – not just because I had made some money, but because of what it meant…
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    You see, many picture books don’t even make back the advance a publisher pays the author. To explain, an advance is against royalties; it’s like getting an advance on your paycheck. The publisher pays you up-front, then once you have sold enough copies to cover the advance, you begin receiving royalties. So the fact that we not only made back the advance, but made it back and then some within 5 months was astonishing. Keep in mind, compared to highly-successful, well-established authors like Jane Yolen and Mo Willems, I’m a relative unknown – so the book’s success is significant. I was so grateful to editor Rebecca Davis and Boyds Mills Press for taking a chance on Flashlight Night.
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  • Summer 2018: Our little book starts popping up on Summer Reading Lists! You can learn more at my blog post HERE.
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  • What’s next: The book continues to be discovered by parents, children, librarians, and teachers. I am always delighted when I see a new review or hear about the book showing up on a reading list. While I continue to do book signings for Flashlight Night, Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018), and the poetry anthologies I’ve been a part of (see below for all the covers), I also love visiting schools to talk about the writing process, poetry, and how writing & illustrating go hand-in-hand when creating picture books.
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    We tell our kids to read and write for 12+ years in school, yet rarely do we tell them they can actually do it for a living…that they could be an author when they grow up. Well, I’m here to tell them they CAN! So if you are interested in having me visit your school, please email me at matt (at) mattforrest (dot) com and we can chat! (You can get more info HERE)

Thank you for following this blog and for supporting Flashlight Night. I never knew how many people would see it, read it, love it…and its success has made an immense impact on my life. I’m genuinely grateful to every single person who has read it, purchased it, shared it, or somehow promoted it. From teachers and librarians, to parents and bloggers, to book sellers and reviewers – there are just too many people to thank individually for their support.

So please know that you are a part of this timeline I’ve shared – at every point along the way. And this goes beyond Flashlight and Dinosaur and all the other books yet to come. None of what I do can been accomplished without the help and encouragement of folks like you. And I hope you’ll remain a part of this author’s journey on which I embarked 8 years ago.

Because I have a feeling we’re only getting started!

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“Hang on there just a second, Matt –
where’s this GIVEAWAY you told us about??

Ah, yes – the giveaway! I have THREE personally-signed copies of Flashlight Night I’m going to give away, in three different ways:

  1. Leave a comment below and let me know you’d like to be entered in the drawing! I’ll pick one name at random on Thursday, Sept. 27 and announce the winner on my Poetry Friday blog post the next day.
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  2. Share this post on Facebook or Twitter! Just be sure to tag me, so I know…and I’ll pick another name at random on Thursday, Sept. 27.
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  3. Leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads! Now, before you start talking trash and calling me out for fishing for compliments, let me state this clearly: if you don’t like Flashlight Night…leave a review, anyway! I am by no means offended by negative criticism. Not everyone likes every book. While most reviews have been positive, there are some readers who have been completely underwhelmed by our effort. And that’s ok; we can still get along. (Why you would want to leave a negative review in the hopes of getting a free copy is beyond me, but to each his own.) Out of all the reviews posted from today through Sept. 27, 6pm EDST, I’ll pick one name at random – and will leave a comment on your review, so you’ll know you won. So be sure to check your review on Friday, Sept. 28!

Oh, and if you’d like to have TWO MORE CHANCES to score free stuff, Laura Sassi is featuring an interview with Fred Koehler and Yours Truly on her blog today – she’s giving away a free signed copy of Flashlight Night AND a package of cool swag from the fine folks at KidLitTV!

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Ordering personalized signed copies online? Oh, yes, you can!


  (coming Sept. 25, 2018!)

You can purchase personalized signed copies of Flashlight Night, (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018), and nearly ALL of the books or anthologies I’ve been part of!

Just click the cover of whichever book you want and send the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH a note requesting the signature and to whom I should make it out to. (alternatively, you can log onto my website and do the same thing) They’ll contact me, I’ll stop by and sign it for you, and then they’ll ship it. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)

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Thank you to everyone for your support!

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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 once or twice a week – usually Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “More Than We Are”

poetryfridaybutton-fulllThis post was originally published 5 years ago, on June 14, 2013. Considering all the graduations taking place this past week, I thought it might be a good idea to re-post it. (You also may also be inclined to check out my message to graduates, which was posted that same week)

=========================================================Where does the time go? One minute your kids are starting kindergarten and the next thing you know, they’re heading off to prom and graduation and the rest of their life.

Whew, that was quick.

My youngest daughter, Katherine, is graduating high school this weekend, so there was no question for me as to what poem I should share today.  Katherine is a very talented young woman, whose photography has graced more than a few blog posts here. She was selected as a New Hampshire Scholar for her above-average course load while in high school, and I’m very proud of her.

I wrote this a little over a year ago – and although it’s not really ‘about’ her, the message was created with her, her two older sisters, and all young people in mind.

(Good grief, I just used the phrase “young people.” That makes me think I might not be one of them anymore.)

“More Than We Are (for Katherine)”

An astronaut’s an astronaut,
but might be someone’s dad
who takes his daughter fishing
when she feels a little sad.
A banker is a banker
but could be a mom, as well,
who shows her son the alphabet
and helps him learn to spell.

A teacher is a teacher
but might be a singer, too.
The janitor at school may wish
he ran the local zoo.
Half of KatieHis son might be a doctor
who is saving someone’s life;
the lady at the store today
might be the doctor’s wife.

Each homeless person on the street,
each writer of a song,
each boy or girl you chance to meet
has somewhere they belong.
There’s always more than what we see,
and as we learn and grow,
we’re all more than we seem to be –

and you’re more than you know.
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– © 2012, Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

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For today’s complete Poetry Friday roundup, please visit illustrator & wordsmith Michelle Kogan’s blog – where you’ll also find her review of Margaret Simon’s brand-new poetry collection, Bayou Song (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2018)!

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DON’T ASK A DINOSAUR”
& “FLASHLIGHT NIGHT”
are available everywhere!

It’s another signing – this time, in New Hampshire’s beautiful Lakes Region! I won’t be able to be there, unfortunately, but Dinosaur‘s co-author, Deb Bruss will be – so I hope you’ll stop by if you’re in the area.

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Purchasing personalized signed copies ONLINE? Yes, it’s true!

You can now purchase personalized signed copies of Flashlight Night, Don’t Ask a Dinosaur, and ANY of the books or anthologies I’ve been part of!

Just log onto my website and click the cover of whichever book you want, and the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH will let me know, I’ll stop by and sign it for you, and then they’ll ship it. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)

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Thank you so much to all the librarians, bloggers, and parents who are still discovering “Flashlight Night!” 

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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 once or twice a week – usually Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Another big announcement: another book!

boyds logoIt was 4 years ago today that I began this little blog, to help promote my voiceover business and children’s writing career. And it was just a little over a year ago, one day when I was hosting Poetry Friday, that I announced I had just signed my very first book deal for a full-length picture book, Flashlight Night. Scheduled for release in Fall 2017, the book is to be published by Boyd’s Mills Press and illustrated by Fred Koehler.

Today, I’m proud to announce I’ve just signed my SECOND book deal!

Co-authored with children’s writer Deb Bruss, my friend and critique group partner, Don’t Ask a Dinosaur was just picked up by editor Jordan Nielsen and the Pow logogood folks at Pow! Kids Books, a subsidiary of Powerhouse Books of New York City.

Don’t Ask a Dinosaur is also scheduled for a Fall 2017 release – which means I’ll have TWO debut books coming out at the same time!

I have to admit, I’m as shocked as anyone to learn about this news. I’ve been writing all my life, but only decided to make a concerted effort to become published in the field of children’s literature about 7 years ago, in 2009.

One Minute cover
(click link to pre-order!)

Since then, I have had 8 children’s poems published in 5 different books, plus I’ll have another one in Kenn Nesbitt’s upcoming anthology, One Minute Till Bedtime (Little, Brown for Young Readers, Nov. 2016), two poems in “Highlights for Kids” magazine, and three others in a soon-to-be-published anthology coming out this fall, courtesy of poet/blogger Michelle H. Barnes.

And for more great news: I’ll also have another poem in an upcoming new Lee Bennett Hopkins anthology!

This comes out to a total of 15 poems and two full-length books in just 7 years…which is what is so shocking to me. I know people who have been trying to get published for 20 years or more and are still struggling, so I kind of feel bad! I don’t want to be”jumping ahead” in the line, you know??

But if there’s any lesson to be learned, I suppose it is that one needs to buckle down and get serious about the craft: write something everyday; try to learn something new about the craft everyday; surround yourself with people who are better than you (either via social media, the SCBWI, critique groups, or some other form of networking); and never, ever, ever let a negative comment, a criticism, or a rejection letter slow you down.

I’ve heard stories about how some writers hold onto their rejection slips as motivation. Some writers look at a rejection letter as a badge of honor. Me? I throw them out as soon as I read them – I figure I don’t need the negativity in my life!

Now, granted, some are actually quite nice as far as rejection letters go, and some can be quite positive and even helpful – so I may hold onto those now and then. But generally speaking, the rejection letters hit the circular file before the mailman has even pulled away from the curb.

So I just had to share the news about the new book…Deb and I are so excited to know that our little Don’t Ask a Dinosaur manuscript has finally found a home, after 18 revisions and almost as many rejections!

I’ll be sharing more news about both books as we get closer to publication date. Until then, I’ve got at least 10 other manuscripts I’m submitting around the publishing world – and I won’t take “no” for an answer!

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School will be starting in just a few weeks…if you’d like me to come to your school (or Skype!) and help students learn about creative writing, poetry, and using the imagination, just click the link for more info!

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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)
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Throwback Summer 2016: My very “first” children’s book

Last week, I told you about the discovery I made while cleaning out my parents’ attic: assorted school papers, projects, journals, etc. It really has been both fun and enlightening to look back on all this material and see how it all worked together to help develop my writing style, my sense of humour, and my very personality.

Today, I’m sharing what is probably the most astounding treasure in the entire trove: the very first children’s book I ever wrote!

(Feel free to click on any to enlarge)

Davy BF 1
(If the sun is behind a cloud behind that wall, where the heck did that shadow come from??)

Titled Davy’s Best Friend, it’s a story about a lonely boy whose shadow comes to life and takes him to the land (or rather, cloud) where shadows are created.

I particularly like the part where he goes up…

Davy BF 2
Omigosh, all the shadows have disappeared!! Oh, wait – no…it’s just poorly illustrated.

…and up!

Davy BF 3
That’s right – page 25, and we’re only halfway through the book! At 60 pages in length, it’s a bit…long)

While I don’t recall much about the specifics of the project – indeed, I had forgotten I had even written it in the first place – I do remember that it was a significant part of my high school senior year Creative Writing class, which would put this circa Spring 1985.

Professionally speaking, the text is bland and wordy, and although my teacher loved the originality, I view the story and imagery as an amalgam of Peter Pan, Where the Wild Things Are, and every lonely-boy-as-hero book ever imagined. Ironically, the illustrations, while admittedly amateurish (rendered well before my college art classes), are probably one of the strongest aspects of this thing -and it wasn’t an art class project!

But I got a 100 for it, so I can’t complain. Oh, by the way, Davy does return home at the end…

Davy BF 4
(What happened to the buildings’ shadows? Are they on holiday??)

Someone had asked me if I was concerned about sharing this online, in case someone might take the idea for their own. I said, if someone wants to try publishing a book based on this…good luck to them! Their manuscript would need so much work and revision I’m not sure anyone would be able to tell where the original idea came from.

Now, this all causes me to wonder what would have happened to my life, had I decided to study children’s writing in college instead of the ‘lucrative’ world of radio broadcasting. (“Lucrative” is a rather sarcastic word, I admit…by the time I had left full-time employment in radio in 2012, with a BS and 25+ years experience, I was making less than a first-year teacher at the local elementary school, in a town of 3000 people).

Would I have failed extraordinarily and ended up in radio, anyway? Would I be doing something else entirely? Or would I already have 400 books to my name, a school named after me like my friend David Harrison, and Jane Yolen scratching her head, wondering, “How does that guy DO it?”

Ah, well…who knows. At least I’m writing now, and getting published now. It may be amusing to look back on our younger days and wish we could have had just an ounce or two of the wisdom we have now, but all we can do is move forward starting with today.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a manuscript I need to work on…

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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)
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Using submission requests to spur inspiration

I’ve written previously about the value of writing prompts as well as the importance of creating your own inspiration. Today, I want to take just a few short minutes to share a little tip about submission requests, and how they tie into these two topics.

No matter what you write – poetry, novels, short stories, essays – there is a literary journal, website, or writing contest somewhere waiting for you to send in your best. And while many folks might not feel their work is up to the “publishable” level, or are concerned that they don’t have an appropriate piece of work to submit, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter.

Publishable or not?

I’m my own worst critic, so I know how it feels when you’ve written something and don’t feel it’s worthy of a wider audience than your cat. You want to tweak it again, fix this line, change that word. I get it.

But, if you’re like me, there’s a point at which you finally think to yourself, “I’ve been working on this so long, I have no idea if this is good or not.”

So send it in! If you come across a submission for which you think your piece is appropriate, send it in! Maybe the editors will like it, maybe not. If they don’t like it, they won’t publish it and no one will see it.

If they do like it, however…you can rest assured that particular piece can be now considered “DONE.”

Nothing appropriate?

The flip side to having a piece that’s appropriate for the submission rules but not actually ready for submission, is not having anything appropriate at all, with regards to subject matter or genre. Here’s where it gets really fun.

Say you’re checking out some writing blogs and one of the bloggers has a writing prompt. Maybe he/she has posted a photo or some words and is asking for readers to share a piece of writing based on the prompt. You might not think twice about whipping up something based on that prompt…so treat the submission as a prompt!

What, there’s a journal looking for stories about windows and doors? That’s a writing prompt! A contest requesting poems about dreams? That’s another prompt! Every submission request is a prompt, so seize every opportunity you can! If you aren’t already doing this, you need to.

No inspiration is no excuse

A professional writer does not wait for inspiration to strike; you simply can’t afford to! Rather, a professional writer creates his or her own inspiration.

Many years ago, I wrote when I felt inspired. Now that I have been writing more and more – and have been published more and more – I have learned to create my own inspiration by working on ideas and words and lines until the poem or story starts coming together.

In the case of submission requests, though, the inspiration is handed to you!

You are told, “We need stories or essays about this” or “We’re looking for poets from this background writing about this subject.” So when you see the request, think about what you might be able to write about that fits the requirements.

Then WRITE!

Proof is in the poetry

Last week, I was thinking about some of the adult-oriented poems I’ve had published, and it occurred to me that most of them had not been written until after I had seen the submission request. In other words, I didn’t have completed poems lying around that just so happened to perfectly fit the rules and requirements of the submission.

Rather, I saw the submission request and decided to write a poem that fit the requirements. And honestly, this has been the case with almost every poem I’ve had published! A few examples:

  • I saw a submission request for poetry about nature, society, and change. So I thought about it and came up “In the Glen,” a poem about The Giving Tree, one hundred years later. It was published by the Tall Grass Writer’s Guild in their anthology, Seasons of Change (Outrider Press, 2010).
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  • I came across another request seeking poems and essays about how poetry trigger-warningsaved a life. My best friend from college, who struggled to accept himself as gay, immediately cam to mind. So I wrote “Coming to Terms,” which was eventually accepted and published in the anthology Trigger Warning: Poetry Saved My Life (Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, 2014). (I’m still waiting for my contributor copy to arrive, but that’s a whole other story.)
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  • In 2013, I interviewed Gerald So, editor of The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly for a National Poetry Month post here on my blog. When Gerald asked if I wanted to contribute to his blog journal, I said I’d love to – so I needed to come up with a poem! The result was “Flight;” another poem, “To the Accused,” was published the following year.

These are just three examples of many, so I hope you’ll take the opportunity to use submission requests as writing prompts. Many folks besides Yours Truly do this, with great success.

In fact, I just completed a new poem that was supposed to be for a writing prompt by a fellow blogger (sorry, Michelle, I’ll have to come up with something else!) – but then I stumbled upon an anthology submission request that was so similar, I had to use the poem for that, instead!

I have no idea if the poem will be accepted for publishing, but I’m not worried. I can: a) resubmit the poem elsewhere, if an opportunity presents itself; b) set it aside to be included in my own chapbook-in-progress; c) share it here! or d) let it languish in darkness, never to see the light of day.

I do know which option I won’t be taking. I’m happy to share just about anything I write, providing I’m pleased with it!

There are plenty of things I’ve written that probably won’t see the light of day, though…and that’s fine, too. Not everything is meant for publication, and not everything meant for publication is publishable. The important thing, though, is that we are writing – so #WriteLikeNoOneIsReading!

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Learning to be happy with disappointment

Well, now…that’s a cheery title for a blog post, isn’t it?

True, it’s not as exciting and peppy and others I’ve shared, but the good news for you is, this will be shorter than usual!

My little crazy-haired girl loves her brother’s Legos, trucks, and dinosaurs!

I have been trying and trying for months now to come to terms with a new lack of time available to work – either for my voiceover business or my writing – and having finally come to the conclusion of what I need to do, I’m finding it extremely difficult to put that conclusion into practice.

You see, my 2-year-old daughter has decided naps are no longer her ‘thing’…and it’s killing me that I have now lost 2 hours each afternoon in which I used to devote time to recording, writing or marketing myself. The only time I now have for my work is at night, once my daughter and 6-year-old son are asleep. And that doesn’t leave a lot of time for much of anything else.

The stress has been getting the better of me, I hate to say. I work late now, but still wake up at 5:30am when my wife gets up for work, at which time our son usually wakes up, as well. Consequently, I’m exhausted more and have less patience with the kids – and then add in the fact I have to drive nearly an hour away once or twice every week to help my parents who are in their 80’s and having a hard time getting around – and my time is no longer my own.

I’m racing here, racing there, forcing my son to hurry up and eat his breakfast and get dressed for school, then hurry my daughter so we can leave to run errands, then try to get her to be quiet for a little while in the afternoon so I can at least check emails, then hurry up and make dinner and hurry up and get them to bed so I can hurry up and try to write…it’s absolutely exhausting.

And not just for me; I’m sure it’s exhausting for the kids, as well.

Selfishness is hard to fight

I have to admit, I have selfish reasons for wanting to work: two-and-a-half years ago, I left full-time employment to develop my voiceover business, and had a hard time building it up because, as a stay-at-home dad, so much of my time was spent raising my son.

Fortunately, I was able to write quite a bit at night, and my children’s writing career took off even stronger than my voiceover business; I started selling poems as a Lullabye covercontributor to a number of different books, and even signed my very first contract for a full-length picture book just last year.

NG Book of Nature Poetry coverSo things were really growing for me, and I wanted to maintain that momentum. I wanted to be writing more, submitting more manuscripts to publishers, and hopefully sign another contract. But now, with almost no time left to myself, I feel I’ve hit a wall.

I squeeze my recording sessions in where I can and squeeze in my writing where I can, but feeling that heavy sense of urgency when trying to write poetry (or anything, really) is counter-productive. How does one “hurry up” and write anything that’s worth reading??

My conclusion

So, as I mentioned earlier in this post, I’ve come to a conclusion that I’m having a difficult time putting into practice. And that is…

To put it in God’s hands.

You see, what we expect of ourselves is not always what God expects of us. What we expect of others is not always what God expects, either. In fact, as my wife and I were reminded this past Sunday at church, even Jesus was not the king that people were expecting at the time.

So I’m trying to remind myself that my daughter’s and son’s well-being are the most important things I should be concentrating on right now. I’ll continue to work on my voice career as time allows, and will write as time allows, but if I can’t capitalize on my publishing “momentum,” so be it. Perhaps I can capitalize on it next year.

Or perhaps I’ll manage to sell one of the 5 or 6 manuscripts I’m currently submitting.

Regardless, I need to change my way of thinking, and it’s not easy. Not easy, at all. I’d like to be a successful voice actor, a successful children’s writer, and a successful father/husband. But if it’s not possible to be all three, I know which one I need to pick.

I need to make an effort to be the person my kids, my wife, and God need me to be…not the person I want to be.

But come to think of it, that’s not entirely correct.

The person I should want to be…is the person my kids, my wife, and God need me to be. And if I can strive for that goal, all other goals can be secondary.

With that frame of mind, there’s no disappointment.

And I’m happy with that.

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Back on the field…finally!

If your memory goes back to a few years ago (and you cared enough to even bother remembering!), I had a major injury on the soccer field two years ago. I tore my right knee apart – the ACL, MCL, and meniscus – while playing on my men’s indoor soccer league and needed surgery to repair the damage.

Well, the injury happened in late November 2013, the arthroscopic ACL reconstruction surgery was late March 2014, rehab took a little over a year, and I spent this past summer and fall continuing to strengthen my leg and hip muscles to ensure the knee would be safe to use in an aggressive setting like indoor soccer.

So after all this time, I’m finally back on the field tonight!

Don’t tell my wife.

Seriously, she supports me, but really doesn’t want to deal with another torn ACL – and I don’t, either, of course. No reason to think it will happen again, as the new ACL (fashioned from a piece of my right hamstring tendon) should be as strong as the original, but I don’t blame her for worrying.

Good things come to those who wait…but waiting only helps so much

Yes, patience is a virtue and the ability to wait patiently is beneficial, but that only gets you so far. One needs to take active steps to achieve certain goals.

For example, after years of writing poetry for adults and getting some published in various journals around the country, I decided in 2009 to make a serious effort to write for children. And not as a hobby; I wanted to make a career out of writing for children, which I knew was neither easy nor, for that matter, lucrative.

Lullabye coverBut I was determined, and set about doing whatever I could to make that happen. I joined an open SCBWI writer’s critique group, then joined SCBWI, started connecting with folks in the business, and learning everything I could. In 2015, I saw the fruits of my labors in the form of EIGHT children’s poems in FIVE children’s books, including my very first children’s publishing credit, Lee Bennett Hopkins’ Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams Appleseed).

I reached another milestone last year, when Rebecca Davis at Boyd’s Mills Press liked my picture book manuscript, Flashlight Night, enough to purchase it! With a Fall 2017 scheduled release date, it is a true test of patience, believe me.

Patience, patience…

– My new studio won’t be ready until later this year. When we had $20,000 worth of ice dam damage repaired this past December, the contractor volunteered to rip up all the upstairs carpeting – which we were going to need to do – at no charge. We took him up on the offer, but that means there’s no carpeting in my present studio space, so voiceover work is a challenge when it comes to sound dampening. I’ll just have to wait!

– Our 2-year-old daughter, whose nursery is going to be my new studio, no longer takes naps – which means I get no writing, voice, or marketing work done until after the two kids are in bed. She’ll start preschool in another two years, but until then…I’ll just have to wait!

– I currently have 8 or 9 manuscript submissions out there in kidlit land, sitting in the slush piles of various editors and agents. The wheels turn slow, so it’s possible 6 months could go by before I get a response, positive or negative. In some cases, I won’t even get a response unless there is interest! I have some names of people I want to send these manuscripts out to, but until I hear back from these others…I’ll just have to wait.

I could go on and on, but won’t. My point is, trying to have patience in a world of instant gratification is tough – and I’m not perfect at it. Far from it! I hate waiting, just like most people.

I think I’m at the age where I’m young enough to still be a bit impatient and impetuous sometimes, but mature enough to recognize that life is short and tenuous. Who knows what could happen between now and my picture book release date? What if i die before I ever have a chance to see the book in print??

Sorry – there’s that imagination again, coming up with all sorts of circumstances. But seriously, if I DID die before the book came out…there are plenty of things I could have been doing in the interim besides worrying about it! So I’ll try to be patient and wait.

After all, I have a new manuscript I need to work on…

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2015 in review: Thank you!

2015 was another big year for my blog!

I had a visitor from China, one from Afghanistan, and one from Ethiopia…I had 300% more visitors from Thailand than I did from Botswana…and while the majority of my 9400 total visits came from here in the U.S. (7300), I had more from the UK than our neighbor to the north, Canada – in fact, I had almost as many visits from Australia as I did from Canada!

How do I know all this? Well, once again, the folks at WordPress.com have compiled my year-end stats, and I wanted to share them with you today, since I hadn’t had a chance to earlier this month…and because without you, I wouldn’t have ANY stats!

– Three of my most-viewed posts in 2015 were from 2012? Yep! Once again, for the 3rd straight year, the MOST popular post was a poem that had received a lukewarm reception when I first shared it. And yet, more people read that than anything else on my blog! Go figure.

– The most popular post was very special to me: In May 2015, I hosted Poetry Friday, which always attracts a huge crowd – but it was my announcement that I had landed my very first book deal with Boyd’s Mills Press that had me singing that day!

– What’s in a name? A popular search phrase: One of the most popular ways people have found me is by searching the term “rhythm and rhyme” via Google. While I knew this was common phrase (one of the reasons I chose it to use in my blog name), it never occurred to how useful it would be in helping folks find me! You learn something new every day, as they say.

I have to thank two of my perennial top-commenters, Linda Baie and Michelle Heidenrich Barnes, who I can always count on to provide their thoughts to the conversation! Also many thanks to Mary Lee Hahn, Diane Mayr, and Brenda Davis Harsham, who round out the Top 5, for their time and interest.

Three other folks I need to tip my hat to are Renée LaTulippeTabatha Yeats, and Irene Latham, a trio of women who are some of the most wonderful people in the world…one the primary reasons being that they have sent me more visitors from their blogs than anyone else! Thank you so much, ladies!

So please click HERE (or click the graphic) and take a quick gander at some of the other interesting details, and thanks again for taking the time to stop by and visit. I hope the New Year is a happy one, and please keep in touch!

Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme: 2015 in Review! Click the graphic for all the details.

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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)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

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!
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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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) Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!