Where do ideas come from?

In public, I get asked this question a lot: “Where do you get your ideas?” For the longest time I would answer “whatever makes me laugh,” but to be honest, I never truly knew. Until yesterday that is…

After having a deeply emotional day, I started looking for something to do with all of that emotion. As an aside, I firmly believe that emotion has to be expressed and dealt with, otherwise bad stuff starts happening in our body, mind, and soul.

I had been stuck coming up with another story for the “Nuts” family to go through, so in my sadness and frustration I linked the two problems together and asked this question: what would Wally do with this emotion? (Wally being the eight-year-old squirrel at the center of “Nuts”.) Just like magic, the story started to manifest.

So to answer the question of where stories come from, the reality is that, like so many other things in our lives, stories come from emotion. That problem of what to do with our emotions, how to express them, why anyone cares, is the basis for every writer that put pen to paper- even if they don’t consciously know the reason they are driven to write.

Now I have a question for you: How are you using your emotion?

“Nuts” volume 2 will be out next month, but if you can’t wait, you can check out the original by clicking here.

Standing Up For Yourself

Right now I’m shaking, physically trembling, not because I am about to do something but because of something I have already done. I stood up for myself. Do you know this feeling?

Let me provide a little more context, book sales have not been doing well as of late and I don’t know where to lay the blame for that. Mostly, I blame myself because I am the shepherd of it, however, my time has also been taken by another project- or should I say, person.

Somehow, in my desperation for additional income, I got roped into working for and with a vampire. I have been taken advantage of, willingly I might add because this person exploited a weakness in my personality. He knew that above all else I wanted to please people. I wanted him to like me and to reward my effort and convinced myself that in time, despite all of the warning signs, I would be rewarded. I realized though that I was wrong. I was being taken advantage of, and I decided to put an end to it.

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

As I’m writing this, the person in question is repeatedly calling me. I have sent every call to voicemail. He is not upset that I am leaving, he is upset that I took away his free meal. The great challenge in ending a bad relationship is that the relationship should never have happened in the first place. When one party changes, the other is suddenly offended that what they thought they had is no more. At no point does the shark realize that the tuna didn’t want to get eaten.

I’m sharing all of this with you because it’s an example that bullying, the kind that we attest to ending in childhood, is rampant in adult life. Physical abuse is rather easy to detect and stop, as friends will always step in, but what of the abuse that happens in your own mind? How do you ask for help when your complaint is that you are doing work, voluntarily no less, without compensation? If you are like most people in my life during this time, you would have scolded me that I deserved better. The strange truth was that I knew.

Here’s the thing about our culture: we are far too quick to blame the victim. Victims are victims for a reason. Had they the foreknowledge to fight then the incidents wouldn’t have ever happened in the first place. Why reprimand those brave enough to try to change? Unfortunately, though, this story is all too common. We have come to celebrate the exploiter and admonish the exploited.

You too are probably in a similar situation. Maybe someone is stealing from you, stealing your time, stealing your money. Perhaps there is someone taking emotional advantage of you, of your kindness, that needs to be set straight. Perhaps you are even in the most insidious situation of them all and someone is stealing your love. The only thing that all of these situations have in common is the lack of self-respect for the victim, by the victim.

Fortunately for us, we are only victims so long as we choose to remain victims.

So don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. You know the truth and you have to honor it, even if that means upsetting the apple cart. Besides, apple carts were made to fall over. They can easily be righted and the apples replaced. To get biblical for a moment, we were called to serve, not to slave.

Hopefully, soon you will be shaking as well. Not because you are scared, but because you’re no longer afraid. Just know that the feeling will pass.

Life of Music: Alice Cotton, Fellow Fridays

In the beginning, many years ago, ten-year-old Alice Cotton had her head under the piano lid of her father’s baby grand piano. She was plucking the strings and listening to all the resonating sounds it made. For hours! Then, later, as a teen, after playing clarinet in a school marching band, she started performing and writing songs with her new guitar.  Unbeknownst to her, she was also in the process of meeting her future music partners who would be accompanying her in creating successful music acts around the U.S.

It started in New Orleans, where Alice Cotton and her childhood friend, Cora McCann (Writer & Editor, Content Marketing, Cleveland Clinic), wrote songs and performed them as a duo acoustic guitar act called Sunstorm. They performed on Bourbon Street at one of the top New Orlean’s tourist nightclubs. They continued working in taverns and clubs around the city, making a name for themselves until Alice decided to move to Oregon. Cora eventually moved back to Ohio.
In Oregon, Alice co-led one of the top performing night club bands that she shared with another childhood friend, Lisa Coffey, (harpist/instructor). Of course, their music was very original with the sound of harp strings next to the guitar, bass, and drums. They worked hard to become one of the top working bands in the area. This is when Alice learned to play electric guitar as a rhythm and lead player.
Later, Alice joined the Byll Davis band that played on the weekends for dances and private clubs as one of the only female lead guitarists in Oregon.  The rest of the time she taught 4th and 5th grade in public school and math and art to homeschoolers, always encouraging her students to pursue music and performance in fun ways.
Along the way, Alice learned about book writing from her mother who was a screenplay and book writer. Eventually, this all led to Alice’s interest in writing books for children. Of course, the books are all about music characters like Largo, the half rest, who goes on a search for his missing key in her book, Musical Tales, and Presto, a newly written sixteenth note, that escapes from its music in The Case of the Flying Note

Alice Cotton’s goal now is to tantalize young people (as she was at age 10) into pursuing a life that emphasizes an awareness of music. “It is all around us”, she says, “and is part of who we are as human beings. It has been proven that music helps our children improve overall performance (academic included) and to create well-balanced lives. She continues to say, “It is no wonder that many young people start playing an instrument at an early age. They write songs, listen to the sounds in the world, and are filled with wonder.”

In the end, Alice Cotton became a master teacher of music, art, and mathematics. Her wish is that music not be ignored in the raising of our children, hence she writes musical fantasy books for 8 – 11-year-olds.  Go here to see all her books and acquire a unique gift for a loved one: alicecotton.com

 

 

You’re ok where you are

I wanted to do something a little different this week and talk about a subject almost completely unrelated to my books… almost. So let me know what you think of this and if you found it helpful. After all, I’m here for you.

Lately, I have wanted change in my life. Like most people, this year so far has been enormously busy and stressful. I’m not sure the why, perhaps it’s something in the air, but everyone I know seemed driven by an invisible taskmaster that demanded nothing short of everything they had.

Unfortunately, that kind of effort can’t last. Humans are not machines, we are organic and need rest. That’s a good thing though because while people can perform functions like a machine, machines cannot create like humans can. They simply repeat patterns. For the last few decades, we as a society have been attempting to become like our computers. You know the feeling, right? Someone sends you an email and then immediately texts that they sent you an email. If you delay in any way they will call you, just to be sure. That’s a person’s expectation that you are to respond like a program; instant and obedient.

When we break away from this, when we finally say that we need rest, there’s a sense that lingers that something is supposed to happen. It’s like when you run for a mile and then suddenly stop: your legs will still want to move and will tingle to tell you so. When we stop working like crazy and push back against the world there’s a sense that we shouldn’t have, that we needed to keep going, that we needed to make sure things get better.

We’re always wrong.

I’ve met very few people in life who ended up exactly where they wanted to go. For the majority of us, we all started out one way and somehow found ourselves somewhere that we never expected. For me, it was writing children’s books. And, notwithstanding death and disease, most of us are ok.

And that’s my point in all of this. We are ok. We are ok where we are and we will be ok where we are going. The big challenge in the modern world, especially in the go-getter attitude of America, is to simply be present in the day. Today is just a day like every other day that has had the same name. You conquered those days perfectly fine and you will get through this day just as well.

We are exactly where we need to be, where we should be, and it’s our job to find the humanity, the personal connection, in that moment.

Everything else is like email. Brief, sometimes interesting, and ultimately fleeting.

What About Story? A Conversation With Jean Lee

A few weeks ago, Jean Lee and I started a conversation about storytelling and its purpose in our lives. While it began as a debate, the viewpoints that we shared had more similarities than differences. Note that “AJ” signifies my replies and “JL” marks when Jean is speaking. My sincerest thanks to Jean for coming up with this idea.


  1. What purpose do you think stories have?

JL- For some reason this question takes me back to all those years of Bible class, where if one didn’t know the answer, one could just say “God” and somehow be right, however tangential a manner.

At the most basic level, stories help us grow.

They send us shivering to bed with cautionary tales of witches haunting the yard. They teach us to cope with loss, be it a pet, friend, or family member. They test our understanding of how the world works. They free us of the reality’s constraints and let us loose in realms both fantastic and boundless.

Stories provide that which we do not always have in our realities: Camaraderie. Understanding. Hope.

A dream.

AJ- I have to agree with most of this. I see stories as stemming from two things: 1) it’s an outgrowth of human language and 2) it’s a consequence of the uniquely human ability of imagination. Stories aren’t just lessons that we tell each other, they are proposals for life. We tell them not just to warn of what is there but to ponder what could be.

2.  With all the entertainment out there, why do you think reading is important?

JL- No other entertainment truly involves the kid like a book. I see it with my kids more than anything. My son Biff (age 4) can sit and stare at books for ages. He can read quite a few, but he mainly does it for the pictures: he’ll make the characters talk and go on adventures all his own. He doesn’t need the television to make all the adventures for him; books give him the tools to create his own. My daughter Blondie (age 6) devolves into a couch potato whenever she plays computer games or watches a show. Yes, we keep it pretty limited to educational stuff, but that’s still not the same as a book, where the senses depend on language to create. When Blondie reads, she’s speaking the words out loud, listening to herself say them, and in that, taking them all in. Her fingers run along every line of the page. She must study each word in order to say it correctly. The more she reads, the more story involves her, and therefore, the more Blondie utilizes her skills and senses.

AJ- I had a conversation with a child once at a school about Minecraft. He asked why I didn’t play it anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I love Minecraft, but no matter what I create in that world I am still playing within the confines of someone else’s creation (plus most people simply won’t care about what you make in the game.) Video games and films present reality, basically saying “here it is, interact with it” while books collaborate with your imagination asking “what do you think this person looks like? What’s the scary thing in the dark doing?” This exercises imagination which in turn prepares us to actually contribute to reality. I like to say to kids that I much prefer to make my own Minecraft rather than live inside of Notch’s (the creator of Minecraft.)

3.  Should a book be literal in its meaning?

JL- Ah, here’s a dicey question. I suppose I should pick a side, yes?

Then no. No, I don’t think a book needs to be literal. I suppose this comes from childhood and Bible class again—all those parables of “earthly stories with heavenly meanings.” I’m used to the idea that there’s something more going on than what the story tells.

Kids are smart…I mean, yeah, they’ll eat their own boogers, but they pick up on meaning pretty fast. Diana Wynne Jones, my favorite writer of all time, lamented how much a story had to be dumbed down for grownups. Children are used to figuring things out, she said. They don’t have to have everything explained to them—they take what you say as you say it, and figure things out as the story progresses.

If a story insists on being literal in its meaning, then that just sounds like the writer won’t let the readers work out the meaning for themselves.

Take a painting in an art museum. Viewers will look upon it with minds forged by countless different experiences. No perception is the same, which means no interpretation is the same. Yet interpret they will, and from that interpretation forge new ideas (even if that idea is Reason #73 of “Why I Don’t Like Art Museums”).

Now let’s say the artist is right there, explaining what all the meaning is in that painting. Some may agree, but for those who don’t interpret the painting that way, how do you think they feel? They didn’t “get” that meaning, which means something’s wrong with their perception. Something’s wrong with them.

That’s not how I’d want my readers to think.

AJ- LOL, forcing me to pick a side, eh? This was the question that started this debate process in the first place. Since the first proposal, I have had a lot of time to ponder the question and my answer is, well, a non-answer. It’s interesting that you bring up the bible because its use of stories, particularly the parables of Jesus, are a great example of why stories are both literal and figurative at the same time.

To continue with the Jesus analogy, consider the well known parable of the good Samaritan: taken literally you could interpret it as good people help other people (or super literal, as in news, that at one time a Samaritan helped a man on the road.) The brilliance of parables is that the listener opts in to the depth of meaning that suits their capacity to receive it. Most people will see that they are called to be like the good Samaritan. Others might comprehend that the Samaritans were neighbors to the Jews and should thus be treated accordingly while a select few may realize that none of these labels matter at all and that we are all both Samaritan as well as the traveler in need.

My favorite children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” by Laura Joffe Numeroff is revealing meaning to this day. I’m still not sure if we should be willing to give mice cookies, knowing that we may be taken advantage of, or that we should be cold and heartless city dwellers that never give money to the homeless because it doesn’t alleviate poverty. If the book has taught me anything, it’s that the answer depends on the mouse who is asking.

On a final note, I’ve found that people will apply meaning to things even if the artist had no intention to have any meaning. Seriously, the human mind is active enough that it only needs a few crumbs in order to formulate a philosophy. In actuality, the fewer the hooks of evidence the more likely the person is to attach their own thoughts to the piece. Perhaps this debate isn’t for the artists at all because no matter how many toasters we paint, there’s still going to be a lot of people who point and say “what a lovely fridge.”

4. Should a book be primarily a metaphor?

AJ- Going off my previous comment, I believe that most stories are a mixture of metaphor and literal interpretation. Yet, just as a cake can’t just be flower, so too could a story collapse if it is only metaphor. I’ve seen other writers get caught up in a metaphor trap and by that I mean that they so stringently forced the components of the story to represent something else that they forgot that they were telling a story. Often this results in what people call “convoluted” or “overdone” because the writer was trying to apply some grand meaning to a canvas that simply wouldn’t accept paint.

JL- Oh, yes. While I adored the Chronicles of Narnia series as a child, allegory is not meant for everyone. It can also easily get very, well, “preachy.” Kids don’t need to be whacked in the face with a MESSAGE. They’ll learn by reading, and discovering for themselves. I think some writers get so caught up in what everything “means” that they forget a story can be precisely that sometimes—a story.

5. What about allegories and fairy tales, how do they fit into storytelling?

AJ- LOL, I kind of already answered this one but let’s delve a little deeper. I believe that fairy tales are the appendix of religious myths. Once humanity found other ways to explain natural phenomena, a part of our culture started to miss the fun and interesting stories that were now replaced with hard facts. Fairy tales are the one place where imagination is still permitted to go to absurdity (and yes I’m lumping sci-fi into fairytales at this point.) I doubt if anyone ever questioned the motivation for the dragon stealing the princess, it’s simply what dragons do. While allegories are teaching tools best suited for spiritual progress, fairy tales are the literary equivalent of recess. They are necessary for our growth, relaxation, and crucial to our entertainment.

JL- LOL! Yes, we did rather scope this out a little, but I think I’m going to step onto the other side of the fence here. Many fairy tales strike me as cautionary tales: beware of strangers giving treats (Hansel and Gretel). Beware of wanting what you cannot have (Little Mermaid). Beware of not paying what you owe (The Pied Piper). As you point out, humanity didn’t have a whole lot of science going for it back then, and it needed SOMEthing to explain the bumps in the night. Angels and devils work, sure, but they’re not earthly, are they? I’d imagine that few kids thought they’d see an angel in their lifetime, but they were all more than certain that a witch lived  out in the unknown, waiting for them if they were naughty.

6. Do stories only have one meaning?

AJ- Stories have as many meanings as any member of the audience is willing to place upon them. I think back on many visits to modern museums where I overheard patrons snickering at what was on display saying “I could do better than that” or “this isn’t art, I know art,” never realizing that the craft and look of modern art is a sideshow to the context and meaning of the work. Modern art expects the viewer to interact with it and place meaning upon the object with the aid of clues left by the artist. Literature has the same expectation, though the clues are usually contained within the piece itself.

JL- Oh dear. I was one of those snickerers, I’m sure. Well, when an artist literally puts an empty acrylic display case up, and calls that “art,” I start to question it! Or that long blue plastic plank leaning against the wall—what’s that about? Now the suitcase on the floor that opened up to a hole lower down where a shimmering pond full of life thrived—THAT I dug.

Anyway.

On the one hand, yes. I should think stories have many potential meanings, though I do think readers tend to force meaning on sometimes. I’ll never forget my first graduate-level lit class: I was scared ****less because I had never taken any form of theory before, and people had been throwing out terms and theories over such’n’such and this’n’that for weeks. Our teacher only wanted OUR thoughts; we weren’t to research. Yet I was so overwhelmed and confused as to where people GOT all these meanings that I started reading critical theory about the story of the time anyway. Well, later that week the class was audibly stumped over a character. No one could think of anything. I slowly raised my hand: “Would you like to hear what the critics say?” The teacher threw up his hands in surrender, and smiled.

Whether or not the writer intends so many meanings is, I think, irrelevant. The writer can’t go around to every reader pointing at various things saying, “See how this means that? See? SEE?” Nor should the reader be banging on the writer’s door demanding, “So what does THIS mean? And THIS?” If we can all accept that many stories have some themes, some things it wants to get across, we’ll either catch them or we won’t. And the writer should, I’d hope, care more about telling a good story than preaching a message. That’s what pulpits are for. 🙂

7. What happens if a reader misses the point of a story?

AJ- I don’t think either the reader or the writer are penalized in any significant way. Now, if the story was boring and lost the reader’s attention, that’s a whole different issue; but if the reader simply walked away entertained then it was mission accomplished. Not every story is life changing, however, the ones that are resonate with the receivers for their entire lifetime. I have my own collection of impressions from great works that usually boil down to a single sentence or scene. Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense why I kept them, yet they still bubble up at the weirdest times. If I choose to, I may reflect on that impression and place it into the context of my current life. If not then what’s the harm? First and foremost stories are meant to entertain. Instructing and inspiring are secondary.

JL- I’m with you, AJ. I even blogged about this recently, too—I never understood how people pick up all these themes in stories; it was one of my biggest struggles in graduate school. I was either engaged by the story or not. As a writer, though, I’m starting to appreciate the importance of theme in creating the story. Whether people pick up on that theme or not doesn’t matter; I just want them to enjoy the story. But I have to write it first, and I have to write it right. Theme, or having that point, helps guide writers in setting the right stages to get the right reactions out of the characters to keep the story moving forward. How’d I put it… “It is THE definitive in a world our imaginations have not yet defined.” So, I’d say writers MUST have some sort of point, theme, however you want to call it. Readers? Readers might pick up on it. They might create some totally new themes on their own. And why not? A reader is in and of him/herself an element of the story, too. A reader brings all his/her perceptions and ideals into visualizing the world and characters. They’ll see things the writer never considered, and from there, discover new themes and ideas to apply to their own imaginations.

Nothing wrong with that. 🙂

8. Can you give any examples of a story that has no meaning at all?

Hmm. That’s a tough one. I suppose the short answer would be this: “Nope.”

A slightly longer answer would be this:

JL-Every reader has his/her own tastes. While other girls got into The Little House books, I was reading about the cases of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. I wasn’t out to derive any meaning from them, just like I doubt my daughter’s determined to learn about life from The Black Lagoon books. Children aren’t the ones who “look” for meaning, nor do they know it when they see it; that’s on the parent, I think, and as a parent, I’m not restricting my kids to strictly “meaning-full” books. I like how The Black Lagoon series shares Hubie’s various misadventures in various school experiences, because they help my daughter feel more comfortable in her own school, but I’m not going to keep my kids from books whose meaning–if there at all–eludes me.

Perhaps that is a question to handle for a future debate: how much can an adult ask of a child’s story?

AJ- How much can adults ask indeed. I often wonder if parents obsess over the meaning or the lesson of a book when none of that actually matters to the child. Not to mention that it’s questionable if the morals even sink in with the child without parental intervention. Again, stories have meanings placed upon them and it’s critical for the parents to discuss the story with their children and communicate what they want the children to learn from it. In that regards, the chief job of the book is to open the conversation, not preach to the reader.

9. How do you explain pop culture media, or other “non-artistic” entertainment?

JL- Super-short answer: I don’t.

Rambling answer: I’m unable to explain this sort of entertainment, but I can tell you this: I certainly don’t care for the current trends in humor aimed at kids, nor the adult humor thrown into kid’s entertainment for the adult’s sake.

For instance, my family adored the recent The Peanuts Movie. The previews shown before the film, however, are atrocious, as each highlights peeing in the pants and turds rolling out of pant legs as the highlights of their kid-geared comedy. Then you have plenty of Disney films with extremely adult-based humor, such as a plane saying he “kicked ASSton Martin out there!” and cars describing how they wore out their tires on their honeymoon…driving.

Thanks to my controlled exposure of current pop culture, I’ve kept my children out of some markets, such as the “sexy” Bratz/Monsters High. Unfortunately, peer pressure at school can undo a lot of effort, and further propagate the “non-artistic” entertainment kids devour like a plate of brownies. My daughter has shed tears more than once because we won’t give her an I-Pad. Why does she need an I-Pad? So she can play Minecraft like the other kids.

Sadly, books no longer drive the pop culture. I don’t know if books ever did before the Harry Potter series, but they certainly haven’t since. The video game Minecraft has appeared to be the greatest of, well, game-changers, crossing from entertainment medium to medium. Yes, I know there are Minecraft books now, but those books don’t grip my daughter’s classmates for hours on end like the game does.

AJ- LOL, you are correct that most books never break into pop-culture, however, books do provide a foundation for the rest of pop-culture to build upon. Most movies have some literary foundation, as do television shows and some comics. Video games too have drawn from that well, but the same isn’t true in reverse. Movies and books based upon video games often fall flat or are disappointing because there’s no literary substance to the source material. Successful property adaptations, such as the Angry Birds movie, require so much additional material that they end up only sharing token aspects and a name. For the forceable future, I believe books will continue to be the breeding ground for most pop-culture ideas.

10. Does everything have to be so serious? What’s wrong with entertainment?

JL- GOSH no. How boring if everything had to be serious! It’s not like I learned any life lessons from my favorite 80s cartoon Silverhawks, (You can stop snickering now.) (Seriously, stop snickering.) (Okay I KNOW everyone thinks Thundercats was cooler. Leave my 80s alone!)

Sure, it’s cool when a book about pigs doing the polka also teaches instruments, or when the kids learn how weather works thanks to Curious George. But to say that’s all reading is good for–expanding knowledge–is an injustice to literature. Reading not only expands knowledge, but imagination and creativity. Reading introduces us to characters who know all our fears and hopes and dreams. Reading nudges curiosity out of its safe corner and into the wide world, if only to say goodnight to the moon.

AJ- Much like candy, stories without a hard edge are good only in moderation. The same goes for serious stories though, as they can make the world seem hollow and unfair. There has to be a mix and the best stories actually have that mix built into them. I strive to achieve that in my own work, even though most people think I do silly monster nonsense. I’m totally ok with building Trojan horses though. 😉

Making Money as a Mom on Your Own Terms – Amanda Goff

For this Mommy Monday, I invited Amanda Goff to talk about being a direct to consumer salesman and nutritional enthusiast. The two of us met on Instagram and connected over my need for probiotics. 😉 I asked her to share her experience as well as some tips for other mothers looking to start their own side business. Take it away Amanda…


 

1) Why did you start a small business?

I honestly didn’t intend to initially! I just wanted a to make a little extra money to afford these amazing supplements I had found! Once I saw how many people needed what I had and how easy it was, I started to see the potential that this could change everything for us as a family!

2) What do you want to accomplish?

I want to retire my husband from his job that takes him away from our family sometimes 70-80 hours per week! I want to help educate people about how to get healthy and help other moms have financial freedom as well.

3) When would you consider yourself a success?

When I have helped my husband to be able to retire and we feel the freedom to be able to do the things we have dreamed of doing together and for and with our children!

4) Do you find this takes away time from your family?

I have found if I  replace the unproductive time I was spending online and on social media, and turn it into productive time instead, I’m really not  taking much more time from my family! Having a schedule is also very important to make sure I am balancing my time according to my priorities.

5) Friends of realtors know not to talk about homes, does doing this effect your “adult” life?

Ha! That’s a great question A.J.! I make sure that the people in my life that are important to me  know that I care about them and our relationships apart from, aside from and in spite of my business. That being said, I have been able to help several of my friends and family get healthy and that has been such a blessing! If I have something I know can help those I care about I definitely don’t keep it to myself!

6) Why did you choose to work with the company you did?

I chose Plexus first because their products changed my life! Secondly, I saw that this company was different. Their compensation plan and the short amount of time it was taking homeschooling moms of 5 children, just like me, to get to the top of the company (Less than 2 years is the average!) was just unheard of!!

7) What’s the biggest win you’ve seen so far from all of this?

The biggest win for me so far has been the relationships I have made through this business. People have been brought across my path that probably never would’ve otherwise. I absolutely love the people I work with and the new friends I have made along the way!

8) What are you offering to the world and why are you passionate about it?

My company offers all natural supplements that get to the root issues of 80-90% of the health issues we all suffer with. I am passionate about it because I love seeing the difference it makes in people’s lives when they get healthy, feel good, and are able to get relief from issues they thought they would just have to live with forever! I’m also passionate about encouraging other women to pursue their dreams! I had quit dreaming and hadn’t even realized it, but now  I am dreaming again!

9) Do you have any tips for other parents wanting to do this?

Find a company that is still considered ground level and offers a product that is something that people truly need, then go for it! Work hard, be consistent and don’t neglect your personal growth!

10) Are there any specific challenges you’ve had to overcome that could help other parents in the same situation?

Time management is challenging for many parents, especially  parents who are small business owners. I have struggled with this as well. My advice would be to think about and write down your priorities and then write out your schedule and assign your time according to those priorities.


Check out Amanda’s store here: www.shopmyplexus.com/amandagoff

The Trojan Horse of Shock Value- Poop

Why a children’s book author would write a book called Poop.


No one ever said writing is without risk. Writing is a funny thing, people ask all the time for you to bear your soul and to be as honest as possible. Actually, only writing that is honest, perceptive, and takes a risk has any shot of being noticed by readers. Yet, even when we bare our core there is still a chance that people won’t like it, or worse, they simply won’t care.

When I started working on Poop two years ago, I was in a bad place both financially and spiritually. I did what most writers do when they can’t figure life out; we write. I purchased a little red Moleskin journal, the writer’s confidant, and plotted out a story about a boy who was also going through a hard time and his imaginary friend that would help him go through it. The plot sat at the front of the book, though I didn’t have all of it, and I would reference back and forth as the year went on and the story continued.

Normally I don’t hand write work, it takes too long, but there is a certain magic that happens when you slow down. Text gets more dense, meaning becomes more layered, and the texture of the words feel organic. The red notebook came out anytime that life got particularly stressful. One of the key moments in the book was even worked on as a real estate agent was negotiating the contract for the house I was living in in the room next to me- a contract that would eventually lead to me needing to find a new home. Emotions charge writing, even if that emotion doesn’t come through on the page.

I wanted Poop to be honest. I wanted it to have emotion, to feel like something that actually happened. Characters were allowed to act on their own, say what they wanted to, and only move the plot forward when they felt like it. Many times I had to restructure the plot simply to afford a character who had made a different decision and, unlike most of my work, I had no idea what the ending would be until the book was almost done.

Poop came from a vast reserve of life experience- much of the plot actually happened to me. During the writing I underwent two cat scans and an endoscopy to root out the cause of my own stomach issues. I had arguments with loved ones just like Liam did and I came to some of the same conclusions on maturity and life that Liam eventually holds. In short, I was translating and understanding my own real world experience into this book. It felt like crystallization, like the memories were being converted into something more solid. Yet it wasn’t a journal.

When I finally finished, I started to understand what I had created. This book, the one with a smiling pile of poo on the cover, was actually about maturity. It was a Trojan horse ready to spring on unsuspecting readers. Liam’s journey through the book is one of self-realization in regards to his place in the world. He starts off feeling like he is the butt of existence, at the mercy of everyone, and it slowly dawns on him that not only is the world not against him- the world really could care less about him.

While that may seem like a harsh lesson, in reality it’s a great relief to the boy. That moment when we realize that life isn’t about us is crucial to maturity. It’s a threshold that some adults never cross (Liam’s father is just such an adult.) This change is entirely facilitated by Liam’s imaginary friend, Poop, who is in actuality Liam’s sense of fatherhood guiding him through the process.

Liam makes mistakes, he acts out for attention, and he heroically strives to solve his problems. He is everything that I wish I was and, eventually, what I became in my own life. For me, Poop represents turning your weaknesses into your strengths through a process of confronting life. Writing the book, in the same way that Liam writes his essay for the climax, was an alchemical process turning a miserable situation into inner peace.

My greatest hope for this book is for it to translate that same process for children going through their own difficulties. Yes, most of the people that respond to it have suffered from celiac or some other stomach condition, however, maturity is something that we all grapple with at one time or another- if not continually.

So why would a writer risk his reputation to publish something with a shocking title? Answer: when a writer feels that it’s the best avenue for conveying truth.

Poop is out and available for your Kindle and in Print. Follow this link to claim your copy.

My Autism, Colette Evangelista- Fellow Fridays

My autism is a part of who I am, like the sound of my laugh and the color of my hair….”

At this point and time I am a dinosaur.  Ten years ago when I noticed that my son seemed a bit “off”, Google predominately said that the three signs of autism were “non-verbal, doesn’t make eye contact, not affectionate”.  Or something to that effect.  My son was a hugger.  He had 12 whole words (for a solid year).  It can’t be autism.  When I questioned our pediatrician at a chronic ear infection visit, he got frustrated that my son kept flipping the lights on and off and opening the cabinet doors over and over.  He was however extremely impressed that a 15 month old could write the most perfect alphabet on the crinkled paper covering the examination table using crayons.  His expert opinion was that I was a “first-time mom” hypochondriac.

When the diagnosis actually came, it knocked my feet out from underneath me.  It would take years before I would even begin to find my equilibrium again.  Why?  Because I hit the hamster wheel.  Fix it.  Fix it. Fix it.  Try this.  Try that.  Do this.  Do that.  Diet.  ABA.  Therapy.  Shots.  Horses…….  WHERE IS MY MAGIC WAND?!?!?  Everyone else seemed to have one.

One night I lay in bed choking on my fear and failure.  I got up, went downstairs, banged out “My Autism” in about twenty minutes, and then promptly forgot all about it.  For 3 years.

I gave up.  Not totally.  I would never do that.  Too much at stake.  But I let go of the intensity of it.  I did my best.  I started to realize that I sucked at implementing ABA in our day, but I was good at pushing my son outside his comfort zone.  I tried to give him as much solid nutrition as possible but didn’t cry over another night where I allowed  Dominos to be for dinner.  

And one typical day in the middle of the week, my son was standing in our kitchen.  I looked at him and had a breathtaking moment of clarity.  He was perfect.  As he was.  I no longer saw “autism” flashing on his forehead.  Autism was one part of who he was, but certainly not all of it.  Autism was now neutral.  How did that happen?  When did that happen?  For years it was something to fight.  To fix.  What total crap.  What a total waste of energy.  My son deserved to have every part of him loved.  And that included the autism.  How could I have conveyed that there was a part of him that was not right?  That his beautiful self could have aspects to it that were scary and broken?  

Let’s be clear.  I had to stop right there.  I had already spent years punishing myself with the guilt of all the things I had done wrong.  Or worse, there were the “right” things I didn’t do enough of.  Now my energy would be directed at acceptance.  “Dear Lord…please help me to love with kindness and without judgment or agenda.”  It was time to celebrate all the good and do our best with what we had to work with.

And then I remembered “My Autism”.  I went back and looked at it.  I wrote THAT?  This positive story from a child’s perspective about having autism?  But  that wasn’t MY truth at the time.  How could I have done that?  

It’s been said that…as autism advocates….it is our job to be the voice of those who need help communicating their message.  “My Autism”  is my son’s truth.  This is our kid’s truth.

My autism is a part of who I am, just like the sound of my laugh and the color of my hair….”

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Colette’s Website: http://www.everyonehasautism.com/

Colette’s “My Autism” Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/MyAutismbook/

Writing for Autistic Children

Back in February of this year (2016) I had the pleasure of visiting a class via Skype. I didn’t know this going in, but the class was mostly composed of children on the Autism spectrum. They had a profound love of my books and that drove me to understand more about their needs and how to better serve their families.

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I went on Instagram and started interacting with the parents of ASD children. This led to a lot of fantastic conversations and a heaping helping of empathy on my part. I realized that I had an unusually large number of autistic friends (and former partners) and that the connection between myself and ASD was that I tended to be both over-sensitive and over emotive. My illustrations and writing also have the same tendency.

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So the question became, what kind of books could I make specifically for this audience?  One mother in particular, Mrs. Contreras (who also wrote the dedication for the new book), had a striking story to tell. Her three children are all on the spectrum, albeit at varying ends of the chart, and her household peace exists in a precarious balance. I asked her directly “What could a book do to improve your life?”

“Honestly,” she replied, “I just want to tell my son that it’s okay to hug me.”

I can’t imagine much that’s more painful than your own child refusing physical contact with you.

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From there we discussed pattern breaking (as I brutally phrase it) where a parent is able to convince or coax an ASD child off of an ingrained habit. Usually the pattern is disruptive in some way to either the child’s life or the parent’s well being. Notable examples include needing the parents nearby to sleep, keeping the house pin-drop quiet, or having one specific toy at bath time.

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I couldn’t address all of these issues, but I wanted to create a frame for discussion and specifically talk about Mrs. Contreras chief concern: intimacy. This subject became the central point of the book. The rest of the story, and I’m using that term loosely here, is focused on statement pairs. The first statement normalizes the pattern behavior while the second statement suggests something new that is outside of the pattern. I didn’t want to chide children for doing something that comes natural to them, neither did I want to fall into the trope of “you are a special snowflake that needs separate treatment because you’re not normal.” (I hate any attempt at division, even well-intended division.) The final pattern can be replicated endlessly and my hope is that parents will create their own pairs for their children.

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Once we had the story and the sketches down, I started showing the book to other parents on Instagram. The feedback was fabulous and contributed a lot to the look and feel of the book (even my own father got in the act by demanding better backgrounds.) I also met a therapist that specialized in working with ASD children, Saundra S. Harris M.Ed., CCC-SLP, who was kind enough to create a letter to the parents for the book- to which I am supremely grateful. Other parents noted that the simple language and direct illustrations were well suited to the audience. They were glad that I didn’t go into metaphor land.

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All in all, let his was the most collaborative project I have ever done. It’s my sincerest hope that this work is truly helpful to families out there coping with ASD issues. Doing work like this restricts the audience, as “It’s Ok to Hug” is by no means a bedtime story, but that’ skins of the point. Books are like shoes, there’s no one size fits all, and I much prefer to make books that people need rather than guess what people will want.

“It’s Ok to Hug” is available now on the Amazon Kindle store and on Apple’s iBook platform.