Tag Archives: Donna Janell Bowman

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 http://www.donnajanellbowman.com.


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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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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 http://www.donnajanellbowman.com, which is currently being redesigned.


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