A Collaborative Effort: Working with a Co-Author

Under the Staircase Cover FinalI had the pleasure of working on a brand new economic adventure series for kids called Under the Staircase. Through the creative direction and inspiration of my co-author, I.M. Lerner, the Under the Staircase Series recently launched with our first book: The Secret Under the Staircase.

The series revolves around two siblings, Maya and Nate Liber who suddenly find themselves locked in a mystery while trying to help stop a mayor who wants to control the school decisions of their small town of Kirkcaldy Point, Virginia. The story is filled with secret codes, secret passageways, and unexpected adversaries, all while trying to teach economic principles in a fun and exciting way.

I.M. Lerner is the glue that holds this project together. It was her desire to teach these important principles and values to her own children that inspired the series. I was just blessed to be brought on for the ride! ;-D

Many may wonder what is it like working with a co-author. For me, this was my second collaborative effort. I have worked previously with another friend, but this was the first time I was brought in when the project was already in development. I.M. already had outlines and character sketches and story ideas. I just helped put all her thoughts onto paper.

There are several things to consider when working with a co-author:

  1. Make sure you get along. It is far easier to work with someone who has similar ideas and with whom you can easily appreciate what they bring to the table.
  2. Don’t always expect to agree, but be respectful of the project. Egos definitely need to be left at the door. The end product is more important.
  3. Be open to new concepts. Maybe you had one idea, but try to look at the new idea. It may work even better.
  4. Before you start, sign a contract. It’s best to have a written agreement, even amongst friends. This way you know what is expected and when.
  5. Enjoy the collaboration. You and your co-author are developing something new. And as they say, two heads are better than one.

For more information about the series, visit: www.underthestaircase.com.

My Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is a global blog tour, started in Australia, to showcase authors and illustrators and their current work. I was tagged by the author of G is for Grits: A Southern Alphabet,  Nikole B. Bethea.

After I post answers to the Q & A, I will pass the blog onto Nancy I. Sanders, who will pick up the tour on July 18.


1. What is the working title of your next book?

My current book is The Declaration of Independence from A to Z. It was released January 2010 by Pelican Publishing Company.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

One of my writing friends challenged me to write an alphabet book in a month. I accepted the challenge and started looking for current publishers of ABC books who were accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Then I looked at the type of alphabet books those publishers produced, and if there was something that I could add to their current line. I saw that Pelican Publishing Company had several holiday books, but nothing on the 4th of July, so I got to work.

3. In what genre does your book fall?

Nonfiction picture book.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Because my book is an ABC book with different elements to it, it would be hard to pinpoint specific actors since the “roles” would be very brief. But, I think it would be a great piece to be narrated. I would choose author David McCullough to do a voice over because of his distinctive tone and because of his love for the history of this country.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The Declaration of Independence from A to Z is a chronological look at one of
America’s most valuable documents.

6. Who is publishing your book?

Pelican Publishing Company.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

My first draft was about the 4th of July as a holiday. I wrote out each letter of the alphabet, then went down the list, thinking of words that had to do with our nation’s birthday and how we celebrate it. All this was done within a month, per the challenge I had accepted from my writer friend. When I heard back from Pelican, though, they wanted a more in-depth look at the Declaration of Independence. I asked for 3 months to research, and then came up with the idea that the only way to make it an understandable piece was to write it in order of events.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

When I was researching to see what type of books Pelican had published, I looked at Laura Crawford’s The Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving from A to Z. Although I wrote my book differently, Laura’s book helped me figure out the style Pelican was looking for and how I should handle certain letters. As for an actual book that compares to mine, I know of no other alphabet book based only on the Declaration of Independence.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My love of American history and my wanting to produce a book that I would be proud to show my children was my inspiration. I have always loved reading about our nation’s founding, so I think it was icing on the cake that my first book dealt with that era.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

What really fascinated me as I dug deeper into our founding was that our grievances with Britain weren’t only about taxes. There were many other issues that angered the colonists, but most particularly that someone who lived over 3,000 miles away could have a say in how a group of people lived without ever having stepped foot on their soil, or without having someone from America representing us in England. That’s why our government became a republic, so that those who speak for us are from the areas they represent.

I also want to thank Pelican for choosing Layne Johnson as the illustrator. He was right in line with the type of artist I wanted, and his paintings are beautiful depictions of my words and feelings for this work.

The Declaration of Independence from A to Z is also part of the Accelerated Reader Program.

Thank you for taking the time to help me celebrate my “Next Big Thing.” Now onto the next candidate on the blog tour who will post on July 18th. You can see Nancy Sanders’ Next Big Thing here.

A New Project

I have always loved mystery stories. Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden, Brains Benton and Jimmy Carson, and the Three Investigators, were welcomed guests in my home when I was growing up. In fact, I still have many of my original copies of these books, yellowed with age, well-worn, but thoroughly enjoyed. Every so often I will pull one out and read it again, re-experiencing the pleasure of joining these sleuths in their many adventures.

Because of my love for mysteries, it has always been a goal to write my own series. I have written several adventures, with the hopes of getting them published, but try as I might, publishers were just not interested. So I decided to try to publish them on my own. It was a lot of hard work, getting the stories fine-tuned, and then working on the formatting requirements, cover, etc. But I am pleased to say that my first mystery story, The Mystery of El Rancho, is now available.

The story is the first in the series of the Oak Tree Detectives, best friends Ruth Tapia, Victoria Reyes, and Solana Flores, who start their own detective agency in their small town in Southern California. I’m now working on book two, The Stone Heart Mystery. Hope you’ll have as much fun reading as I did writing!

Paperback copies can be ordered here.

Kindle users can order here.

Book 1 of the Oak Tree Detectives

Career Day

I was honored to be one of the participants of the Lankershim Elementary School Career Awareness Week in Highland, CA. The theme this year was “Get Started!” and in the 45 minute slot I was given, I shared with a 5th/6th grade combination class my writing journey. I spoke about the importance of learning all you can learn, because you never know if you can use those skills in your future. I constantly mentioned the importance of research, especially in the writing field, since all of my stories, including a lot of fiction, need good solid facts to back them up. We talked about the fact that it’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you want to be at this moment, because, like myself, that can change; but it is crucial that you keep up with your studies. And, I mentioned not to be surprised if not everyone likes their work. Rejection is normal, especially in writing, but perseverance will eventually pay off.

I hope the students I shared with enjoyed themselves today. They were a very attentive and courteous group, and I wish them the very best for their futures.


Inspired to Write

These past four months I was privileged to participate in a Picture Book Mentor Group. The five of us, all published authors, met once a month to talk about current picture books we had reviewed, and then we presented a recent manuscript we were inspired to write. I had taken a short hiatus from writing the months before we started, so joining this group was a great way to plunge back into writing. It took discipline to read the required 20 picture books each month AND write a new picture book manuscript. But, boy, did it stimulate my writing! I came away energized and with four new manuscripts to submit to publishers.

It’s important to keep challenging yourself when you’re writing. Participating in critique groups and/or writing workshops are a few ways to keep that energy level up and those ideas flowing. How do you inspire yourself to write?



I like new and interesting things. They don’t scare me; they intrigue me. So when I first heard about ebooks several years ago, I remember thinking e-reading would become popular in the near future. And I was right.

Of course, I couldn’t participate in my own product prediction at that time. My budget didn’t allow for that particular extravagance. But with some meticulous saving, and a surprise monetary birthday gift from a friend for just that purpose, I was able to purchase the Nook Color this past summer.

Why the Nook Color? I spent a few months researching and trying out a few  e-readers. I liked how the pages turned without blacking out. I liked the potential of reading items (especially picture books) in color. I even liked that I can check my email from my Nook while my kids use my main computer, saving me from constantly calling out, “Do I have any mail?”

I don’t like the short battery life, but my current lifestyle keeps me close to electrical outlets, so it’s not a problem at the moment.

How do I feel about it now that I’ve had it for a few months? I enjoy it. One of the reasons I wanted an e-reader was to get old editions of books for little cost. This is a huge plus for all the research I have to do. The downside is that I have to be careful how these editions were scanned. Some optimizers misread the old fonts, making a guessing game out of particular words. With a little effort, though, editions can be found that are very readable.

I like that I can carry my current selections all in one package. Many of the volumes I’ve used for research are large, so it’s nice to have a hand-size version of what I’m reading that’s easy to carry.

I’m still getting used to bookmarking and highlighting. It’s not the same as flipping book pages back to reread a passage you liked. It’s a lot more work to find something. But at least you can peruse a list of those favorite lines you highlighted.

Will my e-reader keep me from buying books? Absolutely not. I still enjoy my paperbacks, especially since not everything I’m reading has been converted into an e-book.

Would I recommend buying an e-reader? I’d advise borrowing a friend’s for a day or two to see if it’s something you would enjoy. It’s really a personal call. For me it’s useful, though I don’t use it as often as some. But for others, they wouldn’t even think of turning an electronic page. It takes away that real book feel.





Summer Time

The kids are out of school. The days are getting longer, and the temps are getting warmer. Some would use this time to relax, but does a writer ever really relax? Our minds are still going; our eyes still observing. We look for possibilities for story ideas, characters, and concepts. At least that’s what I do. I want to soak up all that I see and hear and feel so that one day I can sit at my computer and make it a part of a novel, article, or tale.

I have several projects I’m working on at the moment, but these are assignments, not creative stories of my own design. I want a summertime fun project to work on. Perhaps I’ll write a mystery or adventure story. I love these kinds of stories. So while the kids are taking it easy, I’ll sit with laptop, or maybe a legal pad and pen, and let the thoughts flow and bring some new characters to life. I can’t wait to get started!

An Out of Town Visit

This past Friday I had my first major out-of-town school visit. My destination? The Genevieve Didion K-8 School in Sacramento. I had so much fun. The parents, teachers, and staff were wonderful, and the students were very attentive and asked great questions.

I gave three presentations by grades: K – 2nd, 3rd – 5th, and 6th – 8th. My first two presentations discussed the historical aspects of the Declaration of Independence. I had a whole new PowerPoint presentation that I had designed just for this visit, and it was fun showing the kids some of the differences between 2011 and 1776.

My last presentation was about the writing journey. I discussed my writing career briefly, then went on to talk about how my book was published, from idea to final publication. The kids had lots of questions about the writing process, and I was also able to share from personal experience how crucial it was to make sure your work is error free.

After my presentations, I was taken to the library where a small luncheon had been prepared in my honor. Sandwiches, salads, snacks, and sweets were spread out for me and the teachers, parents, and staff to enjoy. Later, I was driven back to the airport, where I flew home.

It was a long day for me, but a very enjoyable one. Thanks to everyone at the Genevieve Didion School for their superb hospitality and a truly amazing day!

Improving As You Go

The past few days have been a flurry of activity. I was a participant for Literacy Day at  Hidden Trails Elementary School in Chino Hills on Friday, attended the Family Festival of Books in Chino on Sunday where I shared a table with friend and fellow writer Nancy Sanders, and on Monday I gave a short presentation to three different groups of children at Buena Vista Arts-Integrated Magnet School in Montclair. Each event was unique, but educational.

As a writer it is necessary to make appearances to help promote your book, encourage literacy (you want to keep people reading so you can keep writing), and discuss writing as a career. Although each presentation and/or event will be different, I try to be adaptable as well as teachable in the situations I find myself in. I try to take away a tip or tidbit or lesson so that my next appearance or presentation is that much better.

It’s fun to interact with the kids, and it’s great when you talk to teachers and principals who can offer constructive helps to make your interactions more vibrant and relate-able. Improving as you go not only helps you as a presenter, but it makes your visits more memorable to young potential readers.


I’m learning to juggle. Oh, I’m not picking up oranges or circus clubs and trying to alternate 3 of them in the air. I’ve never been able to do that. But I am trying to juggle my writing with research.

It’s not easy. I’m in the midst of some really in-depth studying for a manuscript I will write next month, but I don’t want to burn out because of the intensity of my subject. Then I need to keep on top of some writing projects, but I want to make use of every opportunity to read my research books (you should see the stack I want to go through).

The important thing is to prioritize. Right now my main priority is to find as much information on my topic so I can begin writing the manuscript next month. I found that if I give myself so many hours a day to read, then I can put the books aside without guilt and spend some time writing later in the day. Although it’s not a perfect plan (life has a way of throwing curve balls into any schedule), it’s been working so far. I expect to be finished researching in time.

Juggling takes time to master; but just think of all that can be accomplished once you learn!