Author Archive

Oklahoma Ink: An Uplifting Experience

November 21, 2009

When Publisher Pam and I drove into the circular driveway of the Harwelden Mansion in Tulsa, we were greeted by friendly members of the Tulsa Press Club and wowed by the mansion’s architecture. Built in 1926 by oilman Earl Palmer Harwell and his wife Mary, the place was absolutely beautiful. It was a great site for a fundraiser and author gathering.

Twenty different authors sampled fare from a variety of restaurants. (My personal favorite was the bow tie pasta from Carino’s.) By six o’clock, we were all in our places. I sat next to Robby McMurtry, a graphic novelist and artist whose recent book features Frank Eaton, better known as “Pistol Pete” — the man who was the inspiration for OSU’s college mascot. Robby entertained me with stories about his favorite comic books and talked enthusiastically with Pam about graphic novels. He also let me try on his cowboy hat.

At the end of the table sat Nathan Brown, winner of the 2009 Oklahoma Book Award for poetry. He and Karen Coody Cooper were deep in conversation about religion and spirituality. And on the other side of Nathan sat illustrator Mike Wimmer, tucked into an alcove with floor to ceiling windows and an amazing view of the Arkansas River. He was surrounded by beautiful books, including the one about Will Rogers, written by Frank Keating.

My new friend, Charles Martin, had a plum spot near the front entry. He sold most of his books about a “charismatic, troubled rock musician” involved in an end-of-the-world cult. I think his charismatic smile and hand-painted Converse high-tops helped his sales.

Two hours sped by, and soon we were all putting our books back into boxes and clearing off our tables. Then came one of my favorite moments of the evening when Mike lifted me and then Nathan in a show of strength and creative camaraderie.

What was my other favorite moment? Heading back to Pam’s brother’s restaurant, The Canebrake. Pure bliss.

Lunching with Juanita

June 19, 2009

A surprise phone call this week resulted in a lunch date with Juanita Carr Rush, Paul Henry Carr’s youngest sister. If you’ve read my book, It Wasn’t Much: True Tales of Ten Oklahoma Heroes, you’ll know that Chapter 4 is devoted to Carr’s harrowing story aboard the Samuel B. Roberts,  a WWII destroyer escort, and his tragic, untimely death.

Chauffeured by her son Mike, Juanita was delighted that her brother’s story had been told in a way that appealed to children. She had lots of questions about how the book came to be published and about FortySixth Star Press in general. In turn, we had questions for her about what she remembered about Paul.

“For one thing, we always called him Brother,” she told us over a delicious meal of Thai food. Even now, Mike said, the surviving sisters refer to him in that way, rather than by his given name. Paul was the only boy in a family of 8 sisters, so he wasn’t likely to be confused with anybody else.

Juanita also had a gripping memory of the day the telegram was delivered. Her sisters and mother clung to each other in a group, while she sat on the couch, taking it all in. Later, she remembered her mother heading out to hang the wash on the line. Gut-wrenching sobs came from outdoors, and Juanita didn’t know what to do. There’s was nothing she could do, really. The loss of her only son was a devastating blow for Juanita’s mother.

Years later, Juanita was able to process the grief her mother felt by reading letters she had written to Paul when he was stationed on the Sammy B. It was a healing process for her, since she felt she’d never really grieved properly.

It was truly delightful to meet Juanita and hear about Paul from her firsthand accounts. She has also had an interesting life as the wife of a Navy man, with stints in both Iran and Italy. What a nice surprise it was to get that phone call and lunch with the sister of an Oklahoma hero!

A day at Mustang High School, part 2

April 20, 2009
One of the most enjoyable things about my visit was answering questions from the students. Granted, I had to really pull the questions out of most of them, but I needed to fill a whole hour!
 
I got the kinds of questions you’d expect: how long did it take to write the book, how did I do the research, and what kind of process did I go through to write each chapter. Also, I got some questions I hadn’t really counted on, like if I enjoyed reading the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, did I like sports, or did I know there was a typo in one of the chapters?
 
The essays contained more questions.
 
What was it like meeting Felicia Daugherty’s daughter-in-law?
  • That was one of my favorite experiences. Betsy Daughtery was a gracious hostess full of enthusiasm about stories she ‘d heard from her husband about her mother-in-law. Felicia had actually died the year Betsy was born, so she’d never met her. However, she had some of Felicia’s belongings and was happy to show me some of the china plates that Felicia had worked on as a young woman. Betsy gave me a great as much information as she could about Felicia’s personality and let me borrow a couple of portraits that were made when she was a young bride.
 Why did you choose these people over other more famous people?
  •  Because I’m a librarian, I know there’s quite a bit of information out there about Oklahoma’s favorite sons, people like Will Rogers, Woody Guthrie, and Jim Thorpe. Along with my colleagues at FortySixth Star Press, I think there are plenty of Oklahomans who need to have their stories told: people who have achieved great things throughout history, on the battlefield, in the courtroom, in everyday life. The people in my book were ordinary people who found a certain strength within to make sacrifices.  They risked their reputations and sometimes their lives to help others and to achieve a greater common good. I think they set a great example for young Oklahomans.
 Are you an historian? Do you have a passion for history.
  •  I am not a trained historian, but my colleague Larry Johnson is. He has collected many stories and has plans to publish materials by and about Oklahoma over the coming years. I love reading about history, especially in the areas of science, the western frontier, literature, and adventurers/explorers. I really love reading personal memoirs as well.
 What was one of the things you learned from writing the book?
  • First-hand experience with the publishing process was a real eye-opener. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and exhausting. But doing a quality book, and being nominated for an Oklahoma Book Award, made it all worthwhile. 
What inspired you to pursue writing? How old were you when you started writing?
  • I really think I was born with a love of writing. When I was little, I used to entertain myself by writing stories. I played out endless dramas with my Barbie dolls. I used to terrify my cousins by telling them ghost stories. I had a special talent for writing that many of my teachers recognized and encouraged. I have a memory of being complimented in the 4th grade by a teacher who liked my essay about a visit we all took to a museum.  So while I may not ever write the Great American Novel, it doesn’t stop me from doing something I really, really enjoy.
 
What is the hardest part about writing?
  • Trying to fit it in due to my busy schedule of working a fulltime job and being the busy mother of two very active boys. Also, writing the first paragraph of a chapter is very hard. Sometimes I have major writer’s block because I want to start the chapter off with a really good sentence and that can be so intimidating.
 
How did you know what career you would choose?
  • Because the library was my favorite place as a little girl, it seemed like an obvious choice for me. I knew I didn’t want to teach, because both my parents were teachers and I could see how difficult it was for them, always grading papers and worrying about how and when they were going to get the proper supplies for their classrooms. Books were my childhood friends. I could always count on them to take me away into a wonderful world of imagination and entertaining characters. My second choice was journalism, but because of my empathetic nature, it didn’t really suit my character. The benefits of being a librarian is the training we receive in how to locate information, which is perfect when you are writing a book of nonfiction!
 
What would your book be like if you aimed it at an older audience?
  • I think it would be fascinating to take the chapter I wrote on Felicia Daugherty and expand it into a history of the Spanish Flu pandemic in Oklahoma. So many interesting things to tell!

Do you like talking about your book?

  • I enjoy meeting people and talking about the writing process. I’m not exactly comfortable doing it, but the more I push myself, but better I become. It’s the best way to promote the book and by making connections with people, I hope they will feel my excitement about the subjects and want to read about their lives.

Why is your writing so big when you’re so small? Did you know that I also consider you a hero?

  • This is quite possibly the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me!

A day at Mustang High School, part 1

April 16, 2009

On March 10th I had the opportunity to talk to students at Mustang High School about my book and my journey. It’s the first time I’ve talked to teenagers, and I was a little nervous.

 

My oldest used to listen to a band called My Chemical Romance, and loved a song called “Teenagers.” With those lyrics ringing in my head, I agreed to speak to all of Mrs. Chavez’s classes. It was a long and challenging day, and my voice started to give out during 3rd Period. But I persevered. It was really worth it, because I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone and the kids were great.

 

Before my visit, Mrs. Chavez picked three chapters for the students to read: Stanley Rother, Felicia Daugherty and Rufino Rodrigues. After my visit, they were asked to write an essay.

 

Some examples from their writings:

 

I learned that there are a lot more heroes that enrich Oklahoma’s history than the ones everyone knows about. I also learned that sometimes small acts of kindness can make a really big person.

 

I feel inspired to stand up for myself.

 

I learned through this activity that there are plenty of heroes we can look up to, outside of athletes, celebrities or our families …

 

From the author’s presentation, I learned that I may change my mind about what I want to do in life but nothing is impossible.

 

…always stand up for what you believe in and be who you are. I also learned that I should do something that I love and money isn’t everything.

 

People need to know about people other than celebrities that come from Oklahoma.

 

…full of interesting facts.

 

…never underestimate yourself or anyone else.

 

…sometimes even the littlest acts go a long way.

 

Heroes are made, not born.

 

What really surprised me were their impressions of me. But I’ll have to share those in another posting.

An evening at the 2009 Oklahoma Book Awards

April 6, 2009

jana-famous

Last night’s 20th celebration of the Oklahoma Books and authors was a rare treat for me. Since my boys have hit their pre-teen/teenage years, I am usually falling into bed by 10:15, exhausted by their activities of the day. But every now and then, I dress up,  curl my hair, and head out for a night on the town.

It Wasn’t Much was nominated for an Oklahoma Book Award in the category of Children/Young Adult, joining such works by authors like P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast, for Chosen; On a Road in Africa, by Kim Doner; The Trial of Standing Bear, by Frank Keating (illus. by Mike Wimmer); Tim Tharpe’s The Spectacular Now;  and Spy, by Anna Myers.

At the champagne reception before the dinner, I shivered behind a table (it had to be about 62 degrees in there, I kid you not) in between Tim Tharpe and Anna Myers. I couldn’t have been given a better spot. I’d read great reviews on Tim’s book, and Anna’s name is often bandied about by SCBWI members. I joined the group last year, and although I’ve only been to a couple of meetings (those pesky boys and their schedules again) I knew of her reputation. At first I was a little intimidated. But soon, we were all chatting and having a pretty good time. (The glass of champagne helped.) I purchased a book from each. Anna signed hers to my spunky, history-loving 11-year-old, and Tim inscribed his for my teen. “Embrace the weird,” he wrote. I love that!

After a meal of tender roast brisket, bleu cheese potatoes and asparagus, the awards ceremony began. I was grateful that my category was first. I’d prepared a tiny speech just in case a miracle occurred and my name was called. Mentally, I rehearsed. “I’d like to thank Larry Johnson, Pam Bracken, my wonderful husband, and oh yes, throw some kind of clever quip in here” but I was pretty certain the award would go to one of the two people I’d sat with earlier. Sure enough, Anna was called to the front, and I stopped worrying about climbing those wicked steep stairs and falling in front of the prestigious crowd.

I’ll never forget the events of the evening, especially my tablemates’ quest for coffee creamer!

The Great Fall Break Road Trip, part 2

January 8, 2009

Nothing gets in the way of a good blog posting like the holidays!

In the second part of a 2-part series, our Great Fall Break Road Trip led us to Checotah, Oklahoma, where Publisher Pam and I were given a warm and enthusiastic reception. Unbeknownst to us, Lloyd Jernigan, head of the Chamber, had arranged for us to meet a number of Checotah citizens  at the Katy Depot Center, an original passenger station that now houses a small history center and museum.

Our biggest surprise was meeting a member of Paul Carr’s family, the baby of eight sisters. She was excited to receive a signed copy of my book and shared with us stories of Paul’s kindness to her. When she was little, she had a limp, and Paul used to carry her to school on his back. It wasn’t a short distance, either.

A classmate of Paul’s had other memories to tell us. She talked about how pleasant Paul was and how he was always smiling. He seemed older than his years, she said, and when there was a scuffle on the playground, he’d step in to set things right.  He always wanted things to be fair.

We met a former teacher of Carrie Underwood, who told us: “that child came out of the womb singing”.

We met many kindred spirits at the train depot, drinking coffee, stamping our feet to keep warm, and taking a tour of the place. The ladies of the historical society invited us back in June for Old Settlers Day, so we are looking forward to seeing them again.

Then we headed down to McAlester Public Library. We met the woman in charge of purchasing, who pointed us in the direction of the librarian. Long story short, she was very excited about buying materials about Oklahoman and asked to be put on a standing order for anything published at Forty-Sixth Star Press.

It was a good day. We finished our road trip by eating some delicious Italian food at Krebs. Now we’ll have to plan a Spring Break Road Trip!

The Great Fall Break Road Trip, part 1

October 20, 2008

Leaving husbands and children behind, Publisher Pam and I loaded up the station wagon with boxes of books, determined to peddle our wares along historic Route 66. First stop — Chandler — where the librarian was so excited about It Wasn’t Much she purchased a copy out of her petty cash reserves. Love the enthusiasm!

Next stop was Stroud, where we hit a gold mine in the basement of the Carnegie-built library. Marsha introduced us to Martha, and between the four of us, we came up with the idea of developing a consortium for locally-published materials on Oklahoma, designing curriculum for 4th-9th graders, and practically solved the global warming crisis as well! Publisher Pam put it on her to-do list (which is gradually developing into a volume the size of a Russian novel) and we were back in the car and headed northeast to the Tulsa City-County system.

Sarah was generous enough to take us on a tour of the cataloging department, stopping us in at the head of acquisitions who assured us that an order had been placed weeks ago, but she’d “check again and get that taken care of.”  After visiting with our pal Tim, we jumped back in the car with Wagoner in mind.

Majic gave us a warm welcome and immediately got permission to send us a P.O. for my book and the newest Forty-Sixth Star Press publication, The Ghost of Mingo Creek. Author Greg Rodgers will be doing a program for her library on November 1 and she was eager to thumb through his book.

What we learned:

  • Librarians along Route 66 are dedicated to quality service and are enthusiastic about supporting local publishers and building up their Oklahoma collections.
  • If you run into a woman named Martha in a library basement, ask her a question. You will likely get 4 amazing ideas.
  • Onion rings are a greasy, yummy treat and will tide you over until a late, 3 o’clock lunch!

ACEI, curriculum integration, and bean dip

September 10, 2008

After receiving an invitation from ACEI president Christy Boggs to speak, I lugged a box full of books to the UCO classroom and checked my supplies: money bag, receipt book, calculator, pen. Everything was in order. I arranged my stack of notecards neatly on the podium as the classroom of future teachers visited with one another and attacked the table of snacks. To my left was an enticing can of bean dip and salty Fritos. Mouth watering, I tried to focus.

Dr. Cassel fired up the projector, and soon I was talking about It Wasn’t Much and the different ways the book could be integrated into the curriculum for 4th to 9th graders. I only had about 15 minutes to speak, so I hit as many of the Extra Credit links on our website as I could while throwing out some of our ideas:

  • Creative writing opportunities for older students. By incorporating the chapter about the Oklahoma City flu pandemic, students could be asked to write out what they would do if their entire family were struck by illness. What would their emergency plan be?
  • Journaling. After reading the chapter about the mining accident, students could spend a week writing as if they were coal miners. What would a day be like? What kind of conditions exist in the mines? How would they deal with the dark and cramped quarters?
  • Plays. Students could be given an assignment to change one of the chapters into a play.
  • Extra credit links. On the website, teachers can make use of the extra credit options available for each chapter.
  • Crossword puzzles and word search pages. Also available on the website
  • Discussions questions are provided for each chapter as well.

 I’d like each child to leave the classroom wondering, “What would I have done?”

After the meeting, Dr. Cassel spoke to me about using math activities as well as creative writing. I’d never thought of that, and was happy for her input. And, I was also happy to finally get at that bean dip. Yummy.

Bartlesville Public Library author event

August 10, 2008

The promise of rain greeted me on Thursday as I loaded up supplies and my 10-year-old son for the drive to Bartlesville. I had been invited to do a Meet The Author program by assistant director Beth DeGeer. The clouds kept us from getting too hot, and we made it through Tulsa without getting lost. Soon, we saw the Price Tower in the distance and found Bartlesville Public Library. We were early, so we ate at One Tiny Deli (it was tiny) and then peeked into the famous skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Taking the elevator to the 15th floor, we got a great view of the city.

Then, it was back to the library to unload our things, set up our table, and hope for a large crowd. Attendance was sparse, but the ladies who did attend were really enthusiastic and we spent 45 minutes talking about the writing process and the 10 people in It Wasn’t Much.

Ruth Brown, of course, was our main topic of discussion, but there was much interest in all of the biographies. I appreciated everyone for coming and for purchasing multiple copies of the book!

What I learned:

  • When purchasing an easel, assemble as early as possible, instead of the night before and finding that two key pieces are missing, therefore rendering it inoperable.
  • Have a price sheet made up so if someone buys 4 copies of the book, I won’t have to do math in my head.
  • Make sure the digital camera is charged before attempting to take a picture next to the bust of my hero, Ruth Brown, and running out of batteries.

One of the women who came to hear me speak was a docent at the Price Tower and she offered to give us a short tour before we had to leave for Oklahoma City. It was wonderful! And very unexpected. I’d like to go back again and take the rest of my family.

What educators are saying

July 31, 2008

“I think this book is a real must have for the reading program in the elementary and middle school. Having been a former elementary teacher, this book will capture the student’s imagination from start to finish. The text is interesting and the lay out is very catchy. Currently, a professor in teacher education, I can state that this is the kind of material that both in service as well as pre service teachers could truly benefit from in the classroom. It Wasn’t Much, Ten True Tales of Oklahoma Heroes should be in every classroom in Oklahoma.”

Tim Campbell, Ed.D.
Professor of Elementary/Reading Ed., College of Education and Prof. Studies — University of Central Oklahoma

“You have put your heart and soul into your book, which shows in its heart warming stories, portraits, and illustrations.”

Zahra Karimipour, Ph.D.
Professor, School of Business — Oklahoma City University