Author Archives: Donna Janell Bowman

About Donna Janell Bowman

Donna Janell Bowman is the author of the upcoming picture book biographies, STEP RIGHT UP! THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY (Lee and Low Books, fall 2016,) KING OF THE TIGHTROPE: WHEN THE GREAT BLONDIN RULED NIAGARA (Peachtree, 2019,) and EN GARDE! ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S DUELING WORDS (Peachtree, 2018.) She lives and writes in Central Texas.

Happy Trails: Farewell from this EMUs Debuter

It has been five years since my publisher first expressed interest in my book, And three years since my first post here on EMUs Debuts—in August 2013. Now, I have officially stepped off the debut trail. Step Right Up was released October 15, 2016 and the official launch party was October 23.

Where this happened.



With my mother. And the show saddle we both used, back in the day.

Debuting my beloved book in front of a room full of friends, family, and strangers was a surreal, emotional experience. I was/am flooded with gratitude for the many people who have journeyed with me. It has taken a village to raise this writer and this book. So, as I gracefully make this transition, I send big hugs and smoochy thanks to my family, my critique partners, ErinMurphySuperAgent, my Austin SCBWI community, the Lee and Low Books staff, my editor Louise May, illustrator Daniel Minter, and National SCBWI for the 2015 Book Launch Award.

To my fellow EMUs Debuters, you have been cherished traveling companions during this debut experience. What an encouraging and supportive lot you are. I feel fortunate to have been a part of this corner of the EMLA family. I’ll be rooting for each of you as you make your own way down the trail. As for all you readers of this blog, you’re in a mighty fine place to learn and be inspired. In the words of Dale Evans and Roy Rogers,

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin’ until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we’re together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you, ’till we meet again.


Sculpture cake by cakelustrator Akiko White.

IMG_1677a 5 x 7Donna Janell Bowman is a grateful former member of the EMUs Debuts blog. Her debut picture book biography, Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindess, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee and Low Books, October 2016) earned three starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Forthcoming books include En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words (Peachtree, 2018), and King of the Tightrope: When The Great Blondin Ruled Niagara (Peachtree, 2019)



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My Weeks Before Launch Date Checklist

In 16 days, my book will hit the shelves. You’d think I’d be prepared for this monumental event, but all I can think is oh my gosh, how’d this happen? How did I get to this moment of anticipation laced with panic?  As if the past too many years were just a dream and BAM! we have a launch on the horizon!

In last week’s post, Elly eloquently expressed the fear that comes with stepping out of our comfort zones—which comes with the territory when launching a book. I can only say, “Amen, sister!” There’s the fear of releasing our babies into the world of public opinion. And the fear that comes with hosting a big ole party that feels like part wedding and part baby shower—complete with tears. Of course, your debut experience might be completely different from mine.

In keeping with our debut theme, I thought I’d share what’s on my book launch checklist for these two weeks before the Oct. 15th release date and three weeks before October 23rd launch party. Trust me when I say that this isn’t an exhaustive list. There are some surprises I’m not willing to divulge. You might be surprised at what’s causing me the most angst at this point.

  • Confirm that my launch venue, Book People, has enough books for the hopeful crowd that will attend. (I’ll keep my author copies in my car, just in case of shortage.)
  • Confirm the sculpture cake.
  • Order the danged backdrop that should have been ordered weeks ago.
  • Check on the swag: the buttons, etc.
  • Order or gather party décor or other items. (saddles, hay bales, and other horsey things)
  • Prepare Evites and the Facebook event page using updated contact list. (Separate evites for different groups of contacts)
  • Choose the food and drinks for the launch party and private after party. (It’s important to note that nobody is required to host a party for their launch, but Austin launches have become rather epic, so…)
  • Ask somebody to take photos.
  • Wrangle volunteers to help with set-up and clean-up, man the food tables, and help with the interactive reader’s theatre skit.
  • Prepare the PowerPoint presentation, with photos and compelling details, including highlights that didn’t make it into the book.
  • Write out the presentation and then practice, practice, practice.
  • Finally, and most importantly, nail down the thank yous. Here’s where I get worried. See, I’m prone to teary sentiment. The more people watching, the uglier my crybaby face is. I’m considering adding an emergency cry slide to my PowerPoint presentation. I might even have one of those face-on-a-stick thingies to hold in front of me when I melt into a puddle of emotion. Besides my beloved EMU’s Debuts mob mates, I have so many people to thank for raising me as a writer, and for supporting this book for the past nine years:

There’s Erin The Great, who believed in me, and this book, before it was even sellable. There are many critique partners who offered valuable feedback over the years—they were first to commiserate during low points and cheer with every high point. There are VCFA classmates who are flying in for my big day—imagine that! And my Austin SCBWI family—there are no words for what they’ve meant to my career. And Mrs. Gentry, my fourth-grade teacher—she has no idea how much she influenced me. Of course, I am sooo grateful to my publisher, Lee and Low; my editors, Sam and Louise; and illustrator Daniel Minter who brought my story to life with such exquisite art. How do I thank my husband and kids who sacrificed in multiple ways so that I could chase this dream? Their encouragement never wavered. And my mother—to whom the book is dedicated—how do I thank her and my late father? Every experience of my youth led to this book. This moment. This new me.

Those of you still on the journey toward your own debut, take heed. The weeks leading up to your launch is a mix of maddening and magical emotions. Amid the chaos of planning, it’s important to be still for a moment and embrace gratitude. With any luck, my launch, and your launch, will be worth every single tear of joy.


The things a debut author will do to promote her book’s launch!

Donna Janell Bowman’s debut picture book biography Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Taught the World About Kindness, illustrated by Coretta Scott King Book Award honoree Daniel Minter, has garnered multiple starred reviews. Forthcoming titles include En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Peachtree, 2018), and King of the Tightrope: The Great Blondin Ruled Niagara, illustrated by Adam Gustavson (Peachtree, 2019). Previous publications include articles and short stories in nationally acclaimed magazines and anthologies as well as books for Capstone Press. In January 2017, Ms. Bowman will graduate with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she mastered the art of writing while sleepless.


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10 BUSY BROOMS and EMUs Debuters Fave Halloween Costumes

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 10.49.28 AMWelcome to day four of our super fun launch celebration for Carole Gerber’s 10 BUSY BROOMS. This fun read-aloud got us all reminiscing about the Halloween costumes and candies that we each loved as children and as adults. Once you’ve popped into your favorite independent bookstore, or onto your favorite online book seller, come right back here and enjoy these blasts from the past. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

Got your copy of the book? Good for you! The young people in your life will thank you.  They’ll probably ask for you to read it over and over and over. Now, back to our regularly scheduled Halloween flashbacks, beginning with our guest of honor.

blonde-1298007_1280Carole Gerber  –  My favorite costume was a (wholesome – complete with pom poms!) cheerleader outfit I wore to our murder mystery dinner party 20 years ago, which my husband’s out-of-town relatives attended. (These mystery dinner parties, which featured eight characters, were all the rage then.) My mother-in-law wore a fortune-teller sweater that she had decorated. My father-in-law (who turned out to be the murderer), dressed as an Arnold Palmer era golfer. My sister-in-law, who then lived in Arizona and had kept her pregnancy a secret so she could reveal it at the party, wore a sexy evening dress pinned to the front of her maternity clothes. Everyone stayed at our home
for three days. We had a great time teasing my “Minnesota nice” father-in-law – the sweetest and kindest man ever – about being the murderer.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 10.44.22 AMHayley Barrett  –  I once won second place ( and I still say was robbed!) at a Halloween costume party. I was a cavewoman. I ratted my waist-length hair and used a can of hairspray on it. Getting it untangled the next day was an ordeal. My favorite candy? Reeses. No contest.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 11.32.24 AMAndrea Chan Wang.  I was obsessed with fairies in the days before you could buy those beautiful gauzy fairy wings at every toy store. So for one Halloween, I made my own out of cardboard, covered it with gobs of glitter, and strapped the whole thing to my back with twine. It was heavy and uncomfortable, but I didn’t care — I had wings! Back then, my favorite candy was — what else — Pixy Stix!

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Pretend it is brown.

Terry Pierce  –  My favorite Halloween costume was a full-body brown furryScreen Shot 2016-08-10 at 11.29.33 AM cat suit that my 3rd grade best friend loaned me. She knew I LOVED cats (even though I didn’t have any of my own). What was most memorable about it was that she dressed as a witch (complete with a broom), and even though we were in different classes, we convinced our teachers that we came as a “set” for the school Halloween costume parade. On parade day, our teachers let us “ride” her witch’s broom together. I remember feeling so incredibly special to get to ride with her class. It was a bit awkward managing to walk with us both straddling her broom, but it was so FUN! I can’t recall a specific candy I loved, although my favorite Halloween treat memory is of my mom’s homemade popcorn balls. SO YUMMY! And I didn’t (nor do I now) ever like candy corn, which happened to be my mom’s favorite so it was always in the house around Halloween.

Elly Swartz  –  Growing up in Pennsylvania, there were some cold Halloweens. So my favorite costume was one that didn’t require me to wear a heavy coat that would compleScreen Shot 2016-08-10 at 12.34.03 PMtely cover it up. As to favorite candy, Reese’s peanut butter cups – hands-down favorite!

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 9.27.04 AM Katie Slivensky  –  My friends and I liked to do group themed costumes. One year we went as the Scooby gang. I was Shaggy! I carried around a giant stuffed Scooby Doo, and got to say ZOINKS a lot. That was fun. And my favorite treat was always from my one neighbor who handed out king sized candy bars. Way to be awesome, neighbor.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 10.03.03 AMJason Gallaher  –  One of my favorite Halloween costumes was what I dressed up as last year. Anyone who knows me knows I love a good, cheesy pun. So I went as a Knotty Librarian. I dressed as a librarian in slacks and a button-up shirt, then tied my hair in a knot and draped myself in a rope full of knots. It was simple, cost effective, and I couldn’t help but chuckle each time I saw myself in a mirror. So knotty!

Donna Janell Bowman
Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 11.34.26 AMMy favorite childhood Halloween costume was one of Cinderella, complete with “gown” of mysterious fabric, and plastic face mask that was so fragile (read cheaply made) that it tore the moment I took it out of the package. The mask was held in place by a thin, stretchy string. Looking back, I realize how cheap and cheesy the costume was, but I also remember feeling like a little princess for that short time. Until I ditched the mask to get to my favorite candy, chocolate.

Thanks for joining us on EMUs Debuts today. Pop by tomorrow (Friday) for our launch week finale.

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DonnIMG_1677a 5 x 7a Janell Bowman’s forthcoming STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS, illustrated by Daniel Minter, will release in October 2016, followed by EN GARDE! ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS (Peachtree, 2018), and KING OF THE TIGHTROPE: WHEN THE GREAT BLONDIN RULED NIAGARA (Peachtree, 2019).


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This Post is Dedicated to…

WARNING: This post is longish. I blame it on other people’s dedications.

Picture it. The bazillionth revision of what will be your debut book has been handed in and approved. Illustrations are complete. Layout is in process. And your editor knocks on your email door again to say she still needs your acknowledgments and dedication. Easy peasy, you think. Until you face a new blank email screen and type the word “acknowledgments,” because that’s sure to be the hardest section to write, right? You get a little misty at the memory of all those glorious people who have lifted you and your work up over the years. In flowery gratitude, you name every person who has Ever seen any version of your book, including that writer who joined your critique group for 7 minutes, five years ago. Your list becomes a novella, so you concoct different criteria to whittle it down. Every name you delete makes you anxious because you worry about hurting feelings. You experience your first panic attack. Then you realize that you forgot to acknowledge your family, your agent, your editor, a research source, your favorite librarian, your illustrator, your publisher, your neighbor, that friend you abandoned during your senior trip, your hair stylist, the office supply guy, your therapist. You develop a nervous twitch as you systematically cut precious people from your acknowledgments. When you’ve finally squeezed your beloveds and beholdens into the teeny tiny space designated by your editor, you pat yourself on the back. The hard part is done, right?


You type the word Dedication. Then the Jaws theme song dun-dun-dun-duns in your mind. How will you word this dedication? The permanence and profundity of these few words hits you. I mean, come on, the dedication is the star of its own page. Like a forever literary tattoo! You begin to question EVERYTHING about your pre-planned dedication. Should it be heartfelt? Should it be funny? Should it be poetic? If you dedicate the book to your spouse, will your kids and parents feel left out? If you dedicate it to your parents, will your spouse and kids feel left out? If you dedicate it to one kid, will the other feel like you’ve chosen a favorite? If you dedicate it to your dog, will you be committed?  If, if, if, if! You think about the theme and tone of your book and the person(s) who inspired the tale until a lightning bolt strikes and you know. You just know. For argument’s sake, let’s say you decide to dedicate your book featuring a horse to your mother because she’s the one who nurtured your love of horses and paid for all those years of horse show entry fees and show sheen. Without her influence, you wouldn’t have been drawn to your book’s subject. Done! But, wait! Should the dedication address your mother’s proper name? You text your eldest son, “hey, do you think Grandma would be okay with me listing her name in the dedication, or should I just say Mom? You know how private she is.” Eldest son doesn’t respond. Your telephone rings. It’s your mother who mentions receiving a confusing text from you. Oops! “And, by the way,” she says, “your book should be dedicated to your husband and kids because they’ve supported you.”  UGH! You decide to never try to surprise someone with a dedication again.

Back to “your” predicament and the many choices ahead.

To Mom?

For Mom?

To Mom, who…….

For Mom because……

You survey your friends with various dedication options. Yes, you’ve become THAT person! Though there is a consensus, you decide your friends are all crazy. You choose a different option and send it to your editor. Then you change your mind and ask your editor to change the dedication three times. Your dedication is profound—flowery, even. But you can’t seem to nail the sentiment. In the eleventh hour, you decide that flowery and complex doesn’t feel right. You send a fourth note to your editor, telling her that you want to make one absolutely final change to a much-simplified dedication. Your editor tells you this is the last change you can make. THANK GOODNESS!

Out of curiosity, you scroll the internet and scour your book shelves to find evidence of other writers who have experienced dedication-neurosis, or brilliance.

Kate DiCamillo. Because of Winn-Dixie

Kate DiCamillo in Because of Winn-Dixie

Danielewski. House of Leaves

Mark Z. Danielewski in House of Leaves

The Little Prince. Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Antoine de Saint-Exupery in The Little Prince

Riordan-The House of Hades

Rick Riordan in the House of Hades

My Shit Life So Far by Frankie Boyle

Frankie Boyle in My Shit Life So Far

Steinbeck. East of Eden

John Steinbeck in East of Eden

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale in Austenland

Katherine Paterson. Bridge to Terabithia

Katerine Paterson in Bridge to Terabithia

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Kiera Cass in The Selection

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Donna Janell Bowman in Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Taught the World About Kindness

You decide that your next dedication will be “To Everyone!”

IMG_0595Donna Janell Bowman is the author of the upcoming picture book biographies, STEP RIGHT UP! THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY (Lee and Low Books, fall 2016,) EN GARDE! ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS (Peachtree, 2018) and KING OF THE TIGHTROPE: WHEN THE GREAT BLONDIN RULED NIAGARA (Peachtree, 2019,) She lives and writes in Central Texas


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Step Away from that Keyboard!

I had the pleasure of participating on two panels at this past weekend’s Austin SCBWI conference, where one of the questions posed was about writing advice. Very wise tips were shared: Read a lot, write a lot, find critique partners, attend conferences and workshops, be willing to revise, etc. While the mic slowly passed my way, I flashed back to the past couple of crazy-busy years and how the isolation of work, work, work, and school, school, school has taken its toll. All this sitting! All this staring at a computer! All this time away from life! Of course, it will all feel worth it once books are in my hand and I walk across a certain stage in a matter of months. We’re allowed to feel exhausted sometimes, right? My extended crunch time has been filled with so many wonderful things. But, it occurred to me that, though I have stockpiled project ideas the way people stockpile batteries during wartime, even those ideas could be jeopardized by my hyper-focus.

Our best ideas come to us when we are NOT trying to create something. There’s a reason little gifts of wonder hit us when we’re driving, in the shower, at a yoga class, or miles away from our work space. Creativity comes during down time, which happens to be when our brains stockpile sensory, logical, creative, and social memory. How else could we remember the thrill of our favorite childhood games, or the sound of wind through trees, the smell of rain , the velvety touch of a calf’s muzzle, or the thorny stems of the neighbor’s forbidden rose petals?  What does it feel like to zip-line down, climb up, run away? What are the emotions of seeing Niagara Falls, or riding a roller coaster, or the heartbreak of teen break-ups? And what about the many ways people act and react with each other? The more life we live, the more energized we will be. And, bonus, those experiences will infuse the stories we write.

My inarticulate advice to the 200-plus conference attendees was actually introspective advice to myself, and I’m determined to take heed:

Step away from that computer!

 Experience new things. Allow yourself time to be aimless. Do something silly with your family and friends. Do nothing at all. People-watch. Embrace a new hobby. Get lost!


Explore. Allow yourself to imagine.


Leap out of joy.

Goose friend

Make new friends

Bird's nest

Be awed by life.


Be still and observe.

whimsy pen

Look for whimsy everywhere!

Give yourself a break, physically, emotionally, and creatively. When you return to the page, you will be more energized and full of the stuff of writing magic.

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Donna Janell Bowman is the author of the forthcoming picture book biography, Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Taught the World About Kindness (Lee and Low Books, October 2016), in addition to En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words (Peachtree, 2018), and King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara (Peachtree, 2019). You can learn more about her work at


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STEP RIGHT UP has a Cover!


Step Right Up cover hi res

It’s been a long wait, but so very worth it! I am thrilled to share the cover for STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM KEY TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS, coming this fall from Lee and Low Books. Illustrated by Daniel Minter. I could not be more thrilled.

I’ve never met Daniel, though I hope to in the near future. Authors and illustrators rarely communicate about their books. Editors are the matchmakers, finding the perfect artist to bring a text to life, as if setting up creative blind dates. And, boy, did my Lee and Low editors choose well!  When I heard that Daniel Minter had signed on to illustrate my book, I was elated. Seriously, elated! Daniel is so multi-talented and his art is profound, evidenced by their presence in museums and galleries. He designed the 2004 and 2011 Kwanzaa stamps for the USPS, and he’s the founding director of the Maine Freedom Trails. Then there are his books! He has illustrated nine children’s books, earning the 2013 Coretta Scott King award in the process.

When Daniel first signed on to illustrate STEP RIGHT UP (Thank you, Daniel!)  I introduced myself via Facebook. I then sent him photos, a model of the horse, and other historical information that I thought might be helpful as he brought the true story of Dr. William Key and Beautiful Jim Key to life through art. I assured him that I would not be a helicopter author, hovering over his progress. (Not that I wasn’t tempted.) I still haven’t seen all of the interior art, but what I have seen is spectacular. I can’t wait for you all to see it, too.

Daniel kindly shared this photo of one of the book’s scenes as it was in progress. The multi-step process of  lino-cut art is pure artistry, don’t you think? Illustration, carving, and painting combined.  Look at those details being carved into focus. I am in awe! And I know Doc Key would be as proud as I am.

From Daniel 3:10:2016

An image from STEP RIGHT UP in progress. Such detail!


IMG_1627a 5 x 7 Donna Janell Bowman is the author of the forthcoming picture books, STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM KEY TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS (Lee and Low, 2016), EN GARDE! ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS (Peachtree, 2018), and KING OF THE TIGHTROPE: WHEN THE GREAT BLONDIN RULED NIAGARA (Peachtree, 2019), as well as books for the education market. She is currently an MFA student at Vermont College of Fine Arts.


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Permission Granted – Banish the Guilt

Hi. Remember me? I joined Emu’s Debuts waaaay back in 2013 when my first trade book sold. My book has been delayed a few times, for reasons beyond my control. I’ve hung around long enough to sell two more books and for one of them to be delayed, too. By the time this book publishes, I will be within inches of finishing an MFA program. Such is the unpredictability of publishing. I’ve been here long enough to welcome new debuters, celebrate their launch day, and bid a sad farewell when they graduated from the “debut” stage. Yes, I’m still here. One day, I’ll have an interesting story to tell about delays and how, though disappointing, sometimes they work out for the best – as if the universe is looking out for us. That would be a great topic for this blog about the debut journey. But today I want to talk about writer guilt.

Yes, guilt. Many of us were conditioned for guilt at a very young age, but the grown-up writer version is what concerns me. Maybe it’s because I’m basically a people-pleaser. Perhaps you’re like me or know somebody like me. If anybody has a problem, I want to fix it for them. When a friend, colleague, classmate, needs help, I eagerly volunteer. I sincerely like to be helpful, and I am flattered to be asked. When I must say no, I feel badly about it. The reality is, there are times when momentum relies on tunnel vision. Thankfully, these tunnel vision times come in spurts and there is always light at the end of each tunnel. When I began an MFA program in January 2015, I was forced to be more self-indulgent and selfish about my time. Like all of you, my to-do list is very long. Sometimes, scaling back is an uncomfortable necessity. The fact is, we cannot be all things to all people all the time.

If you’re a writer or artist, I know you understand the tug-of-war of guilt that springs from dedication to the craft. We feel guilty for taking time away from family. We feel guilty that our craft does not generate enough income. We feel guilty that our homes are a mess, the car is overdue for an oil change, we haven’t moved from our workspace in days, and we don’t spend enough time with the kids. Then we feel guilty when we desperately crave some downtime away from our creative endeavors because the well runs dry and the pressure feels suffocating. It can feel like we are damned if we do work and damned if we don’t. If we were to stack up all the self-imposed guilt associated with the creative life, we could reach the Moon. Maybe a more reasonable approach is to learn to chillax about it.

When my stress level reaches a crescendo (often,) and I feel pulled in 12,000 directions, I try to ask myself a series of questions:

Who is most important in my life?

Who/what needs me the most?

Where does each demand fit in my order of priorities?

What feeds my soul?

I am still working on it, but my goal is to prioritize the to-do list and allow that to determine what I can and cannot do. I need to be kinder to myself. I hope you will be kind to yourself, too. In fact, I hereby grant us all permission to say NO when our time and energy reserves are low, or when we must enter that tunnel of concentration. Let’s do so in the name of self-care, while sending sincere good wishes to the people and events that we regretfully decline. Remember,  we need to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first.

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Launch Week for Bedtime Blastoff!

Hold on tight, dear EMUs Debuts readers. Luke Reynolds’ adorable new picture book, Bedtime Blastoff! has officially launched! You know what that means, right?


Tuesday through Friday of this week we will celebrate with a specially-themed blog post by members of our own EMUs Debuts mob. You never know what you’ll learn when writers pull back the curtain and throw a launch party.  Slip into your favorite space suit and join us!







Congratulations, Luke!



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Mental and Practical Planning for a Book’s Release

Carole’s recent post about letting go of control got me thinking about my own tendencies. My debut picture book, Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Taught the World About Kindness is scheduled for an April 2016 release, barring another delay. Fingers crossed. It’s been a long road since the editor first expressed interest in 2011. Now that the release is six months away, I’m in both reflective mode, and pre-release planning mode.

So much has changed for me since 2011, and certainly since I began playing with the story in 2008. I’ve grown and evolved as a writer. A lot! Since this book went under contract, I’ve written four books for Capstone, sold En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words to Peachtree (that release has been moved to 2018) and, in August, sold King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara, also to Peachtree (2017 release). I’m honored to have been awarded the SCBWI book launch award for Step Right Up, and a Work-in-Progress Grant from SCBWI for my as-yet-unsold picture book biography, Tomboy: The Daring Life of Blanche Stuart Scott. My cup runneth over. It is unlikely it that I will ever see this abundance of good fortune again. And all before my debut trade book releases. I am inhaling the sweetness of it all because, for now, my words are insulated from the world.

As writers, the only thing we can control is the words on the page. Up to now, all positive feedback related to my books has come from my agent, editors, publishers, and other select publishing professionals. Even the inevitable rejections along the way have been contained within the industry. I am acutely aware that, in six months, when Step Right Up appears on book shelves, my words and I will be exposed to the court of public opinion. Yikes! I will have no control over reviews, awards, sales numbers, the reaction of young readers. None. Nada. Zilch! What if people hate my book? What if they call me names? What if my research is questioned, or someone criticizes…something? What if, what if, what if?

There is only one way I can think of to prepare myself emotionally for public responses to Step Right Up: to remind myself that I wrote the book for me, or for the ten-year-old girl I was. And for the children today who share my sensibilities: my love of animals, my curiosity and wonder, and my deep desire for a kinder world. A part of my heart went into this book. When review copies are finally sent out, I will tattoo this reminder onto my psyche in hopes that barbs won’t sting too badly, and that any (hopeful) accolades will stay in perspective. None of us should worry about what isn’t within our control. But we do. I do.

The other side of preparing for my book’s release is thinking ahead to marketing and promotional ideas. Fellow EMU Debuter Laurie Thompson once shared her fantastic spreadsheet detailing her marketing plan for How to be a Changemaker. I can’t find it now, but it was truly impressive. Sadly, I’m not as tech-minded, and I am the queen of shortcuts. For the past few years, this composition book has served as my drop-file repository of marketing ideas.

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You can tell that it was never intended for public viewing, hence the organized chaos of it. I approached it the way I approach my change jar, where I empty the contents of my wallet when it gets too heavy. I have categorized sections of the composition book by reviewers, swag, website development, book trailers, book fairs and conferences, lists of people who should be notified about my book, swag, social media tips, launch party ideas, nonprofits relating to my subject, school visits, awards, notes from publicists, and random flyers, directories, and miscellaneous information that might spark a promotional idea. Whew!  Unlike the change jar, I can’t put a quantitative value on my ideas. There are lots of guesses involved when planning a promotional effort. What works? What doesn’t?


Ultimately, in these months before my book releases into the world, there is quiet amid the anticipation. Amid the planning. Amid the adrenaline rush. Before My book becomes the world’s book, I am secretly coveting the unblemished euphoria of having created, while weaving a piece of my heart into the text. That’s what all writers do, when they write for themselves, right?


Donna Janell Bowman is a Texas author witIMG_0595h so many stories and so many curiosities in her head, they sometimes spill out in the form of books for young readers. You can learn more about her at her temporary website, which is currently being redesigned.


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Luke Reynolds’ The Looney Experiment – An Ode to Teachers

Welcome to Day Two of the EMU’s Debuts launch party for Luke Reynolds and his charming new middle grade novel, The Looney Experiment. If you haven’t already snagged a copy of the book for yourself, or for the nearest young reader in your life, I’m pretty sure you will Looney Experimentwant to by the end of this launch week. Yesterday, Megan introduced some of the looney things we’ve done in our pasts. Today, we’re stepping into the shoes of Atticus, the protagonist of The Looney Experiment, and to the teacher who impacted his life so profoundly, Mr. Looney. We’ve blown the cobwebs out of our memory noggins to reflect on the teachers who helped to shape each of us.

male-teacher-cartoonMs. McCauley was my third-grade teacher. She was the no-smiles type of teacher who left a lasting imprint on my life. You see, I was a slow-as-molasses type of reader when I was little. So slow that it made reading not fun. But Ms. McCauley realized something was wrong. Turned out, only my right eye read. The left one did nothing, causing the whole reading process to slow way way down. She taught me how to strengthen my eye, my reading and ultimately, my love for books. Thank you, Ms. McCauley!     Elly Swartz

red-crayon-pencil-clipartMy first through third grade teacher, Mrs. Knight, is definitely the teacher who sparked my creativity. As long as I did my homework in math and science, she would let me sit at my desk and write stories until my fingers fell off. Mrs. Knight even staged readings in “The Circle” (which was actually a square and still to this day gets me in an Inception-like rabbit hole of “what in the heck did this misnomer mean?!?!”), and kept our books in the classroom library. I will forever remember Mrs. Knight, and wouldn’t be here today without her.     Jason Gallaher

green-crayon-pencil-clipartMy favorite teachers were both band teachers: Mr. Jacobus in junior high and Mr. Duffer in high school. Mr. Jacobus helped me develop a love and appreciation for music. With his encouragement I discovered a drive to set goals and improve as a musician. In high school, Mr. Duffer exposed us to an impressive range of composers and taught us to dream big. Under his guidance we won several competitions and learned not to be afraid of a challenge. I will always be grateful for the incredible gift of music they nurtured. It continues to shape my life in unexpected ways. Case in point: those early band days are providing inspiration for my current work-in-progress!   Christine Hayes

red-crayon-pencil-clipartTeachers often told me that I was good at writing, but I never really felt like I had any particular talent for it. Writing finally came alive for me in middle school when—believe it or not—we got to diagram sentences! Our teacher, Mrs. Lysdahl, showed me that language could be logical and fit together like pieces of a puzzle as well as being beautiful and creative. It delighted me that it could be both of those things at once, and the exercise appealed to both sides of my brain. I loved finding particularly beautiful and/or powerful sentences and then analyzing them, taking them apart to see what made them tick. It somehow brought the “hard” part—being creative—back down to earth for me, and made it seem less like a magical talent that you either had or didn’t have and more like a skill that I could really master if I worked hard enough.   Laurie Ann Thompson

green-crayon-pencil-clipartMr. Arkle taught 12th-grade honors English and blew my mind when he assigned us an E-Prime essay. At that age, I already loved to write, but I always did it quickly, with abandon. E-Prime demanded that I choose each word with care. It opened my eyes to the power of being deliberate. It also taught me what it meant to edit; I spent hours searching through that paper and eliminating tiny slips and weaknesses. Two decades later, that assignment and its lessons remain vivid in my writing mind. Thank you, Mr. Arkle.   Megan Morrison

red-crayon-pencil-clipartTwo teachers come immediately to mind. And they are husband and wife!  Scott Kalter and Sydney Long.  Scott was my 6th grade teacher in a tiny 4 room schoolhouse. His energy and passion were anything but tiny though.  As an adult looking back, I think what he taught me more than anything was the art of active listening: Scott’s focus on each student, and his genuine interest in what each of us was thinking (and hoping and fearing) made all of us feel…real. I know he made me feel that way—like I was a vital part of a community; like I mattered as a unique individual but had a necessary place, too, in the whole.  Sydney was my junior high and high school chorus teacher. Her energy and passion were enormous too. And as an adult looking back on my time with her, I think what she began to instill in me was a work ethic. In specific, she nurtured a process that asked her students to trust that hard work, constant practice, and always striving for better would result in, not only a stellar product, but a magical one.

It took me a long time to fully take in Scott and Syd’s lessons, but in hindsight I truly think they planted critical seeds in me. They also became dear friends, who helped me through some rough times in my young adult life and who, I am grateful to say, officiated at my wedding. They are a critical part of my life today, and I love them both.  Tam Smith

green-crayon-pencil-clipartIn 3rd grade my teacher Mrs. Weber had us all write poems. She didn’t tell me, but she sent mine into the town newspaper…and they published it. I can still see my mom’s face, and feel the surge of happy surprise. And the pride. And I resolved to become a writer. Thank you, Mrs. Weber!!!      Janet Fox

red-crayon-pencil-clipartI feared math class with all my heart. Teachers tried, but I was frozen. In 6th grade, my classmates and I were tested for an advanced algebra class. I passed. I was tested again. I passed again. Here’s why: There weren’t any numbers on the test. If A equals B and B equals C, then… I had no problem with it.      When algebra started, I could barely keep my head above water. As friends aced tests, I struggled. Finally, my teacher had had enough. The night before a big test, she kept me after school and worked for hours with me until I could solve the equations.

The day after the test, my teacher, as was her custom, made the class guess who got the highest score. Name after name of the best math students went by. Finally, she tossed the test on my desk and said, “It was Hayley.”

We both triumphed that day. It wasn’t the end of my math troubles, but it did crack the ice of my fear a little. I could no longer believe that understanding was impossible. My teacher, Miss Kalogeris, did that.   Hayley Barrett

green-crayon-pencil-clipartWithout a doubt, my favorite and most inspiring teacher was my fifth grade teacher, Miss Mellion! She was an artist, fresh out of college, and full of energy. Every month we’d have an artist of the month featured, like Winslow Homer, or Mary Cassat, or Degas, and we’d learn about their lives and art. Her mother was also a teacher in CT, so we had a penpal program, and we even got to meet our penpals one time on a field trip to a museum. She was also a vegetarian, and taught us all about nutrition, and the food groups, and although I didn’t become a vegetarian until many years later, she definitely influenced me. I recently found her address, and am planning to write to her. I hope she still lives there since I’d love to hear from her! She was very encouraging about my writing, and I think she’d be proud to know that I’m now an author too.  Maria Gianferrari

red-crayon-pencil-clipartMy fondest teacher memories can be traced to two special educators. When I was in fourth grade, Mrs. Gentry took a special interest in me. Or, rather, she made me feel special. While I was an average student in general, I stood out in Language Arts, and I was her star speller. I collected the most gold stars for winning the classroom spelling bees. Despite my shyness, she encouraged me to compete on the school’s UIL spelling and poetry teams, which completely converted me to Language Arts geek.

My sophomore English teacher, Mrs. P., was equally important. She insisted that we write in journals every day, which became therapeutic for me during some tough teen times. Somehow she recognized a spark in my writing, and was always encouraging me to think bigger and to do more. It’s probably too late to track her down, but I would love for her to know that I took her advice. Donna Janell Bowman

Bravo to Mr. Looney, who inspired Atticus! And Bravo to all teachers around the world.

What you do matters!


Comment on any post this week for your chance to win a copy of THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT.

Buy a copy of The Looney Experiment from your favorite independent book store, or consider one of these fine merchants:

Amazon, BooksaMillion,Barnes & Noble, Indiebound



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