Sunday, March 31, 2019

Author Interview Sherry Howard plus BOOK GIVEAWAY

Happy Autism Awareness month! I hope you all are wearing blue and showing support for the Autism community.

Most of you know Autism awareness is a topic very near and dear to my heart. Today I’m very excited to introduce you to our guest, children’s book author Sherry Howard.

Welcome Sherry, I’m so excited to be interviewing you today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Thanks so much for having me! Awareness and acceptance of all differences is an issue close to my heart! I received an award from Council for Exceptional Children and was recognized as a Kentucky Colonel for my advocacy for children. Autism is so misunderstood, and can be so hard for families. I’m hoping ROCK AND ROLL WOODS shines a little light on differences.

   How did you come up with the idea for ROCK AND ROLL WOODS?

My granddaughter, Kamora, is acknowledged in the book for coming up with the idea for the character, and for naming him Kuda. I was ready to start a new draft for 12x12 in November 2016, and asked her what she wanted the next story to be about. She wanted a bear, named Kuda, after her bearded dragon. Kamora, and my daughter, and I did a lot of brainstorming for the story. In writing the book, I had the vision of one particular student in my heart. That student was the most lovable grump I’d ever worked with, and I think my love for that young person came through in the characterization of Kuda.

ROCK AND ROLL WOODS is one of the few picture books that poured out pretty quickly. I have others I’ve worked on for ten years that I’m still not satisfied with.

  Why do you write for children?

I missed the children when I was injured, and had to leave my job as a principal early. It took a bit, but I found my way back to the schools as an author. It was probably my volunteer work at an elementary school, reading picture books to second graders, that tipped the scales, and gave the nudge to go all-in and learn the craft.

Where do you like to write?

I love to write at home, and often brainstorm with my family while writing. I’ve tried writing at places like Starbucks, and I get too distracted.

Do you prefer to use pen and paper or computer to get that first draft down?

I use whatever is handy! I have both physical and electronic notebooks full of first efforts! At first, I wrote everything by hand. (I started with novel length work.) Then, I realized how inefficient that was. I didn’t think I could make the switch to all electronic, but I do the majority of drafts on the iPad now. The exception to that is often picture books, and poetry, which seem to need my sensory involvement more.

Where is your favorite writing spot? 

I have physical problems that keep me lying down a lot. A lot of writing is done on my couch. Except when I’m dummying a picture book, or deep in edits on a longer manuscript. Then my kitchen table is my spot. I experience huge guilt when I tie up the kitchen table for very long, so I’ve tried to develop a system. I have a gorgeous, huge desk set-up, but seldom use it.

 How do you schedule your writing?

I don’t schedule my writing. I remember when I first began to consider myself a writer that people talked about a scheduled commitment making all of the difference. But, I feel such a strong urge to write that I basically write any time I’m not doing something else, until my brain tells me to replenish. When I see people who have the will-power to get up at 4:30 AM to write, I’m BLOWN AWAY. You will sometimes find me writing at 4:30 AM, but it means I haven’t gone to bed yet!

What are you working on now?

I’m always working on a lot of different projects at once. Projects I don’t have contracts for: I have two middle grades, a few chapter books, and more picture books than I can keep track of. For the manuscripts I have contracts for, it’s more about popping in when needed for edits. And, that includes the sequel to ROCK AND ROLL WOODS, and a chapter book with Spork.

I’m working on edits for a six-part series with an educational publisher. I can’t say much about it, other than it’s high interest/low reading level, a passion of mine.

What is the main thing you want readers to take away from your book?

I don’t know that I can say one main thing—but if I have to, I’d say I want the take-away for a young reader to be fun. ROCK AND ROLL WOODS is written to be a fun read-aloud, and school visits have shown me it lives up to that. There are lots of other takeaways, too, though. I want kids to feel empathy for Kuda’s struggle, and be inspired to be brave and try new things. I want them to see what it’s like to be a good friend like Rabbit. I want them to love the language—BOOM WHAPPA WHAPPA.

For parents and teachers, I hope the book can help open discussions about embracing differences, and about how each of us “feels” the world in a different way.

Although this book doesn’t directly address autism, it does address sensory processing, which can be an area of struggle for children with autism. In that way, ROCK AND ROLL WOODS can help shed a little blue light of awareness on one possible point of struggle for children with autism. (The back matter has some details about this.)

What were some of the challenges you faced on the road to publication?

Maybe one of the biggest hurdles for me was physical. With a physical disability already, I got a spinal cord injury over twenty years ago that changed my life. I can’t sit, walk, or stand for very long, and I’m walker/wheelchair dependent. That made the physical act of writing challenging.

So, until I got my first iPad years ago, writing was hard physically. Now, I have several iPads, so one is always charged, and I have special pens that allow me to write lying down.

That injury has also made it difficult to be as active in real life as I’d love to be. If I were more mobile, I’d like to think I’d attend every conference and retreat available all over the country. Instead, I’m pretty selective about where I go.

I still face the challenge of finding an agent. I hope someday to be agented. That would require more active querying on my part!

Sherry Howard | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Meet Kuda and Rock and Roll Woods here.

Deep Sea Divers

Sherry Howard lives with her children and silly dogs in Middletown, Kentucky, a stone's throw from the beautiful horse farms Kentucky is always bragging about.
During her career in education, she served as a middle school principal in one of the largest metro school districts in the US. She was an award-winning educator, serving as teacher, consultant, and principal in one of the largest urban-suburban school districts in the US. Sherry specialized in working with children with special needs, and believes that all children face learning challenges and have their own unique gifts.
Sherry loves to read, write, cook, and sit in the sand watching the waves when she can. She credits her ability to write a complete sentence in English to her training in classical Latin. Sherry is the author of the picture book ROCK AND ROLL WOODS, which delves into Sensory Integration through a story relatable to kids. Her poems and stories have appeared in multiple journals and anthologies, and she writes for the educational market.

Sherry has graciously offered to give away a free copy of ROCK AND ROLL WOODS or (and this one is awesome for you kid lit writer's out there.) A free picturebook critique!

Just enter the rafflecopter below. Winner will be chosen at random.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, March 8, 2019

Hi Everyone, today I have the pleasure of interviewing Suzi Olsen. Suzi will be telling us about her journey as a children's indie book author.

Welcome, Suzi, I'm so glad you could join us today.  I can't wait to hear about your books and your writing journey.

First, Mary Ann thank you for having me on your blog. I appreciate it. 

Second, I’m delighted I get to share my books with your readers!

Tell us what your books are about.

I have a series of math picture books for preschoolers to early elementary schoolers that include Annie Aardvark, Mathematician and Annie Aardvark: Adding Ants. The Annie Aardvark books are about a female aardvark (named Annie Aardvark) who is named after fellow STEM professional Annie Easley and who loves math and who decides to go on math adventures during her daily forage.  As a female engineer, this series draws on my passion to encourage kids, especially girls, in math.

What has your experience been like as a new Indie Author? 

I’m still coming off the high of having completed a fully funded Kickstarter campaign for Annie Aardvark: Adding Ants! As an indie author, that was a huge accomplishment for me.  I had learned a lot from my first book (Annie Aardvark, Mathematician) in terms of how to reach your audience and what kind of marketing returns the most readers.  For the first book, connecting with bloggers (like you Mary Ann) was one of the best ways for me to connect with new readers. So, trying a new approach to reach readers for the second book, a Kickstarter campaign, was a little scary.  But I did research and read lots of articles on how to have a successful Kickstarter. That’s probably my overall lesson learned as an author, indie or traditional: do research.  It helps you know what you’re getting yourself into, haha! 

What is your favorite part of the writing process? 

My favorite part of the writing process is coming up with new story ideas.  There’s so much hope and promise with a new idea. It’s rewarding to see an idea become a physical book. 

Least favorite? 

My least favorite part is revising and editing.  I can be impatient at times, so it’s like let’s just get Annie Aardvark: Adding Ants out there already!  Thankfully, my co-editor (aka my husband) helps me slow down and quadruple check the proof before printing the final book. 

Who are some authors in your genre that inspire you? 

Andrea Beaty, author of Rosie Revere, Engineer; Andrea’s a retired tech professional!  Her books are fun while teaching STEM concepts.  I also admire two other tech professionals who’ve turned authors, Josh Funk author of How to Code a Sandcastle and Laurie Wallmark, author of Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code.  Yes, as an engineer, I have a bit of a STEM bias when it comes to picture books; introducing kids to STEM, especially girls, is my passion after all!  

What are you working on now?

I just released Annie Aardvark: Adding Ants this past October, and I’m currently revising two picture book stories that were inspired by real events.  And of course, like most of us writers, I have many ideas floating around in my head and have jotted down some of those ideas on a piece of paper somewhere. Tara Lazar’s Storystorm has helped me accumulate a lot of ideas and pieces of scrap paper this month. 
I love Tara Lazar's Storystorm. 

Tell me, What does your writing space look like?

I write on my couch mostly, with my laptop on one of those laptop trays.  There’s a bookcase next to my couch, filled with journals, pens, books, and those pieces of scrap paper.  The lighting in the room is great though, and the couch is most comfy, so to me, it’s the perfect writing spot. 

What keeps you motivated during creative slumps?

Being in groups like 12x12 Challenge, KidLit 411, Multicultural Children’s Book Day, SCBWI, and Storystorm help me stay motivated.  Having a supportive writing tribe really lifts me up on the days that I’m struggling and thinking about quitting. Their words of encouragement keep me going.

I totally agree. Surrounding yourself with a supportive writing community makes all the difference on those difficult writing days.


What is the biggest surprise you’ve experienced after becoming a writer?

I felt like an outsider big time when I first started joining writing communities and groups, like hey engineer get in your own lane, you don’t belong in kid lit, but that was all my old childhood insecurities and fears about fitting in.  The kid lit writing community is very nice and supportive of each other, and I’ve made lots of friends in the community! 

What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author?

Hands down seeing a child enjoying one of my books.  Friends will share photos of their children reading my books, smiling and laughing while they read, and my head explodes from the cuteness and my heart melts into a big pile of slime (slime being the new goo).  And my own child proudly tells people about Annie Aardvark and loves carrying around his stuffed animal aardvark (who he named Annie of course).  I’m not sure it gets
better than that as a children’s writer. 

Is there anything about the writing life that you think is misunderstood by the public?

That I’m automatically cool.  I’m not; I’m still a big dork.  But there is a misconception that having one book out in the world means you’ve made it in some way, either money or fame.  Unfortunately, not all books can end up on the New York Time’s Best Seller List.  However, I embraced my dorkiness years ago, so when I didn’t get famous or rich from my first or second book, I was still content with what I had accomplished. I still had put a book out into the world.
It's Suzi's birthday month! You can wish her a Happy Birthday on her website or in the comments. 
 Suzi Olsen is a systems engineer in Phoenix, AZ! She currently works on the search and rescue system for the US Coast Guard. She is also the author of Annie Aardvark, Mathematician and creator of STEM Spark. 
To learn more about Suzi and her books check out her website.
If you are interested in purchasing Suzi's books you can buy them here.

BUT WAIT! THERE"S MORE! For a chance to win a FREE copy of ANNIE ARDVARK ADDING ANTS just enter the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


 Hi Everyone, Can you feel the love?  I'm so excited about Valentine's Day and it's not because of wine and chocolates, (although I love wine and chocolates) It's because of Susanna Leonard Hill's Annual Valentiny Contest! 
She makes writing contests fun. Here are the rules.

Write a Valentines story appropriate for children ages 12 and under maximum 214 words in which someone feels guilty!  Your someone can feel guilty themselves or make someone else feel guilty.  They may feel guilty for good reason, or just because they think they should!  Your story can be poetry or prose, sweet, funny, surprising or anything in between, but it will only count for the contest if it includes someone guilty and is 214 words (get it? 2/14 for Valentines Day. You can go under the word count but not over! (Title is not included in the word count.) 

Here's the link to her website. (It's quite wonderful.)

And here's my entry. If you like it leave me some love in the comments. 

By MaryAnn Cortez

Papa bought Mama new earrings for Valentine’s day.
Little red hearts that sparkle.
“They’re from both of us.”
Mama will know they weren’t from me.
Papa thinks he loves Mama the most.
But I love Mama more.
“Mama loved me first,” Papa teases.
He grins a big ole grin.
I don’t see the funny in that.
I close the door to my room.   
Snip-snip. Paste-paste.
I thread a string through the red paper heart.
Just enough room for her face and mine.
Papa’s big ole grin flutters to the floor.
In the morning Papa makes heart shaped pancakes.
He tops them with strawberries and whipped cream.
Then sings a song about a girl and her dad.
He places a present next to my plate.
“For you,” Papa says.
 “From both of us,” Mama says.
The pancakes stick in my chest.
“I’ll be right back.”
I take the envelope for Mama back to my room.
I open it, quick.
Snip. Paste.  
Color. Fold.
Mama puts the paper locket over her head. She opens it. Two faces smile up at her. One with a big ole grin.
My Papa puts the picture I drew of us in his wallet.
We eat our pancakes. There’s enough love for all of us. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever heard of Imposter Syndrome? 

If you are a writer, then it’s very likely you have.  If you haven’t then let me bring you up to speed.

Have you ever won an award for something you would have done without any thought of a payoff? Have you been honored for your work? Been touted as a hero because you happened to be in the right place at the right time and did the right thing? If your answer is yes then in the aftermath you may have experienced Imposter Syndrome. 
Here is the definition as it reads in the Google dictionary. 
 im·pos·tor syn·drome
Dictionary result for impostor syndrome
noun: imposter syndrome
the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills.

You don’t have to be famous to feel like an imposter.

On rare occasions when I meet a new person and they discover that I am a published author, they get this look. A look of admiration. (It’s the same look I get whenever I meet other authors.) That look that says you must have it all together. You’ve achieved your dream.  

My first reaction is to look behind me to see who they are smiling at. Surely it can’t be me. I don’t deserve such praise. 
If they really knew me, they would think: Man, this woman is a mess and they’d be right.

Most days I am a mess. I have to write everything down or I forget to do it. Return this call. Pay that bill. Make an appointment.
I try to fit in little bursts of writing between laundry, cleaning, work schedule, research, figuring out what I’m going to make for dinner.  And Lord help me, somewhere in there I have to fit in social media marketing.
But when I go on a book signing or do an author interview I’m as cool as a cucumber. I really sound like I know what I’m talking about.

It’s like the Brad Paisley song says, I’m so much cooler online.

You don’t have to be a writer to have imposter syndrome. In the age of social media, we all have a public presence. And it’s usually just a glimpse into who we are. Sometimes the pictures aren’t even real. 

But does that really make us an impostor?

 A friend of mine who’s recently published book made her kind of famous, shared that the success of her book was a dream come true. But now she’s falling into a bit of a depression.
She’s doing all these public appearances, signing books and giving talks. She says that she feels like she’s being fake. Like she just got lucky and the success of her book was a fluke. It wasn’t. She worked hard on it for years and deserves the accolades.

But after her appearances, she still has to go home and do laundry. She still has to drive to the store and get groceries like the rest of us.
“Which one of those am I?” She asks. The happy fun lady who writes picture books or the Mom drives her kids to school in a wrinkled T-shirt and a bed-headed bun threating to stop and make them walk the rest of the way if they don’t stop fighting?”

My answer to that is both. Two sides of a real-life person. No one says you have to be one or the other to be genuine. The seemingly put together one is you at work. You rock at work, right?
The sometimes overwhelmed Mom is you at home. Where you can let down your hair, and be a little crazy. The kids don’t care they’re used to it.
You don’t have to pick one identity over the other. Like diamonds, are all made up of many facets. So polish up those suckers and let them shine.

M.A. Cortez lives with her family in Colorado. She spends her days drinking gallons of coffee, reading, and writing or wishing she was writing.


Y.A. Romance

Y.A. Suspense, Supernatural, and Mystery
Watch the trailer:

Holiday Short Story



Instagram@ bookwormyxoxo  

Friday, January 4, 2019

Happy New Year!


I started the New Year with a mean head cold. I’m grateful that I was able to make it through the holidays before it hit. But even with my fuzzy, cold-medicine compromised brain, I’ve made sure to keep working on Julie Hedlund’s 12 Days of Christmas for Writers. I really love this series.
On day 10 Julie suggests that you choose a word or affirmation to repeat to yourself every day this year. This word will set the tone of your mindset toward your journey for the year. 
Last year I chose JOY. I wanted to find the joy in the writing process again.  I'd been putting a lot of pressure on myself to finish my novel and to get another book published. I worked hard. It was stressful and I did not publish last year. I did, however, find joy in writing every day. I also met a new critique partner by the name of Joy, who sent me a copy of Jane Yolen’s book, Finding Joy. This was no coincidence.

This year, my word is YES. 

Yes, to more opportunities.
Yes, to giving myself a break. 
Yes, to better health. 
Yes, to trying new things. 
Yes, I am a good writer. 
Yes, I am worth it. 
Yes, I can do this! 
I will have more YES in my life this year.
I encourage you to choose a word to live by this year. It should be something personal that you want to have more of in your life. Make it the star by which you navigate your journey in 2019. 

M.A. Cortez lives with her family in Colorado. She spends her days drinking gallons of coffee, reading, and writing or wishing she was writing.


Y.A. Romance

Y.A. Suspense, Supernatural, and Mystery
Watch the trailer:

Holiday Short Story



Instagram@ bookwormyxoxo  

Friday, December 28, 2018

12 Days of Christmas with Julie Hedlund .... Listing my writing successes for this year.

Children's author Julie Hedlund, challenged participants of her 12 Days of Christmas for Writers series to post SUCCESSES (rather than resolutions) on our blogs this year. She believes the way New Year's resolutions are traditionally made come from a place of negativity - what DIDN'T get done or achieved in the previous year.  Instead, she suggests we set goals for the New Year that BUILD on our achievements from the previous one. I decided to participate in this Anti-Resolution Revolution! Here is my list for 2018. 

My Writing Successes in 2018

  1.  I wrote almost every day this year.
  2. I entered writing contests and placed in 2 of them!
  3. I did a book signing.
  4. I earned royalty checks!
  5. I wrote poems every day in October.
  6.  I submitted to agents and or publishers every month.
  7. I joined a rhyming critique group.
  8. I did lots more blogging this year!
  9. I was active on Twitter and reached over 1000 followers.
  10. I completed The Artists Way. 
  11. I wrote over 12 picture book drafts this year.
  12. I participated in twitter pitch parties and pitched my books.  
This is the second year I've done the 12 Days of Christmas with Julie and I highly recommend it. It quick and easy and fun. If you're interested, just click on the link in red and join the fun. Or just list your own successes from 2018. You'll feel better about yourself.

M.A. Cortez lives with her family in Colorado. She spends her days drinking gallons of coffee, reading and writing or wishing she was writing.


Y.A. Romance

Y.A. Suspense, Supernatural, and Mystery
Watch the trailer:

Holiday Short Story



Instagram@ bookwormyxoxo  

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

THE WICKEDLY GOOD COOK Halloweensie Contest entry #2

I really wanted to challenge myself this year so I wrote two stories for the contest. One rhyming and one prose. So here's my second entry.

THE WICKEDLY GOOD COOK      By Mary Ann Cortez

Maddie filled her new super deluxe CroakPot.
“Just like on BooTube. That blue ribbon is as good as mine.”
She went to the store and left it to simmer.
But when she returned the CroakPot was cold. “My chili is ruined!”
 Granny’s rusty old cauldron shook and shivered on the shelf.
“That’s it! Halloween stew.
Fire-toad broth.
Mealy worm eyes.
A smidgeon of magic will win the grand prize.”
She jumped on her broom and zoomed lickety-split to the Wickedly Good Cook contest.
“We have a winner.” The judge pinned on the blue ribbon. “Now, that’s howling good stew!”


M. A. Cortez

Instagram@ bookwormyxoxo