Before we begin, here is a bit about Rhonda Walker:
EVERY DAY IS ICING ON THE CAKE OF MY LIFE. It is challenging, fantastic, miracle filled, and troubled—sometimes all at once. There are memories of the blessings of family and friends, successes, and failure. I live daily in grateful awareness of a God who provides abundant blessings, especially during times of embarrassing failures.
I discovered my passion for reading early in life (right after the ark anchored on a mountain top). In 1979, when my daughters were young, I returned to college. There, English and education professors taught me some needed writing basics and opened the door to children’s thinking. In truth, though, I began writing for myself in 1975, and my style was already developed. God blessed me with a passion for reading, the love of writing, and whatever ability I possess.
With training, skills, and God’s help, I fulfilled a long-held dream of writing stories for young readers. Several years ago two of my grammar stories were published in a Scott Foresman textbook for first graders, and plans are underway to put those stories and others into a grammar-series book. I write stories to encourage enjoyment and learning through reading.
What inspired you to begin writing children’s books?
Reading more than 300 children’s books in a college class convinced me there were so many bad books, someone had to write better ones, and I knew I could do better than many of the ones I was forced to read. In the process I became enamored with reading the fun books.
How did you get the idea for Wesley Out West?
I was looking at animals and saw a walrus sitting in a zoo. I thought about them sitting on ice and wondered if they got bored, and what if they had houses (like Eskimos). The story took off from there. I grew up in
New Mexico, so I sent him on an adventure far away
Do you have a writing process/routine or just write when the muse hits?
When I get an idea, it is usually from something I see. I usually envision how it ends, and I see a scene or two in between. Then I have to fill in what happens in the blank spaces. Sometimes I wake from a dream with an idea and think about it the next day. Usually I “see” the ending within the next day or two, or often I have another dream that reveals the ending. My first novel came in 3 dreams over a month. Dream 1: the girl, very young; #2: growing up; #3: her name. I saw much emotion in the dreams, and she quickly became a part of me. You will meet her sometime next year, I hope.
Are there any books or authors that have inspired you?
Actually, I grew up reading mysteries and westerns: Perry Mason, Hardy Boys, Louie L’Amour, biographies about Western & American heroes. It wasn’t the author as much as the word pictures they drew that pulled me in and inspired my soul. Today I admire Janet Evanovich, Nora Roberts (writing as J.D. Robb), Clive Cussler, Catherine Coulter, Iris Johansen. For so many years I loved Mary Higgins Clark, and only recently have I turned more to Fern Michaels in that genre. My two favorite southwest mystery writers are Tony Hillerman (his death was tragic for me) and J.A. Jance. Come to my library and you will find a wall of many authors, but these will be my largest collections.
My favorite children’s books are Rain Makes Applesauce. Both of my daughters had me read the book over and over. One of them can still quote parts of it today. I never get tired of Where the Wild Things Are. The Dr. Seuss series has so much to offer in the way of learning opportunities and rhyming charm that adults still quote entire sections of the books. These standards became such because they offer visual and verbal gifts to the child that add to the child’s memory bank in a way that encourages that child to want a rerun of that experience.
What did you do before becoming an author? Is there something from your job that has helped you as an author?
Many things…some successful, some not. Some not because I wasn’t doing what I love.
I spent many years as secretary, then executive assistant; I served as Service to Military Families Caseworker for American Red Cross during the Vietnam War; I owned a small retail business of sports embroidery and sports charms; I was a legal assistant for a number of years. I have a BA in English and elementary education and am certified to teach English and elementary school through 8th grade; I substituted for a time. I believe each of these experiences helped me better understand life and how each person sees the world from a unique perspective. Lawyers have perspective on life that is uniquely different from the school secretary or janitor. And the soccer mom priorities are not the same as those of a just-returned-from-war soldier who lost his best friend.
Did you learn something about yourself or writing while writing Wesley Out West?
I learned a lot about the mammals in my book. For instance: an octopus will turn red when it becomes frightened. Didn’t know that. It was a learning experience for me.
Tell us about three things in your writing space? What memory or importance do they hold to inspire your writing?
I write near windows to remind myself that there is a world out there to keep me from withdrawing into my own little world of the computer.
I have a small hot air balloon hanging from my lamp to remind me to stay light and
think of happy things. Hot air balloons always make me feel better.
I keep pictures of my family where I can see them to remind me I have love, and I have
notes from some who have read my books and took time to say they appreciate my efforts. I can’t tell you how much that means to me. On days when I feel I’ve wasted my time and energies on a path with no future, their words give me courage to keep on.
You have another upcoming book, Icing, Locusts, & Life. Can you tell us a little about it?
Every day is icing on the cake of my life. When I get up each day I have the choice of deciding to make the day a good, bright day (regardless of whether the sun shines or not), or cover my emotional cake with the dark icing that the locusts of days past have destroyed. During our lives, locusts appear, as explained in The Bible: Joel 2:25. However, the prophet also tells us that God will repay us for the days that the locusts have eaten, and I lean upon that promise to build the life that I live today and
hope for the life of tomorrow, whatever that life brings me on earth and hereafter.
Tell us why parents should buy Wesley Out West for their child’s library?
I am really excited that we are including something unique in Wesley. In addition to the wonderful colorful illustrations that stimulate a young child’s brain, we added a supplement for parents and teachers at the back of the book. There is a “Fun Facts” section for each mammal in the book, along with a photo of the mammal. This allows the parent/teacher a learning opportunity in addition to providing the child a fun story.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write books for children?
Writing is not just sitting down and telling a story. Well, it is; but it is also a matter of telling a story that is age appropriate, easily understandable, and of length appropriate for the age. I found out the hard way that the illustrations may be great for first graders, but the language is more graded for 3rd graders. The 1st graders lose attention by page 3.
My best suggestion is: read 300 books. Seriously. Go to your children’s library and start reading every children’s book at every level. When you find a level you feel is at a level you think might be the most comfortable writing at, start reading again, at that level.
Then take a few writing courses online. While not “kiddie lit” oriented, my very favorite writing course is The Write Practice. Joe Bunting does a fabulous job of sending out information and giving out exercises following his hints each week. I’ve learned a lot from his weekly exercises. I highly recommend you get hooked up with anything he does. Fabulous.
If you join LinkedIn on the web, there are groups you can join that are specifically children lit oriented, and you can easily find courses about writing for children.
Although there are generally no such things as first-time writing wonders, there are exceptions to this rule. One exception to this is Janice Spina, who began her writing success as a child. If you go to my web site, www.thewordasylum.blogspot.com., you will find her guest post. She is the exception and does great stories. But even she still learns by taking seminars. I am sure she would be happy to give anyone pointers. Her contact information is on any of her books and, I believe, on her guest post.
Good luck to each of you wanting to write. It is not an easy one-step process, but it is worthwhile and very fulfilling once you get started. I wouldn’t trade it for anything…well, most of the time. J
Thanks for stopping by! For more about Wesley Out West and other fantastic books for all ages, be sure to visit http://JLBCreatives.com