Saturday, March 10, 2012

In Case You Missed It! The Writer's Block in Review

Every week on The Writer's Block, I am blown away by the creative people who grace our pages with their talent, personal journeys, and advice. This week was no different.

We kicked things off this week with The Writer's Block alum and guest blogger, John Kenworthy (author of The Missionary and The Brute), who turned the tables and interviewed me! I think that he asked great questions which really made me think and reflect about my journey to becoming an author, illustrator, freelance writer, and blogger. Read the full interview!

On Monday, we met artist and cartoonist Kerry G. Johnson. He is a very accomplished individual who is illustrating and publishing children's books while also publishing a web comic, Harambee Hills. His interview has fast become one of the five most popular posts on my blog. Read his interview and see why!

Next, we met Italian artist and illustrator Alessandro Bioletti. Not only is he incredibly talented, but he is also fluent in Japanese! Learn more about Alessandro!

Lisa Eichlin is a preschool teacher and the author of The Bravest Boy I Ever Knew. This week we learned that it is possible to enjoy life in spite of our physical limitations. We must choose to play the cards we are dealt to the best of our ability. Read Lisa's story!

On Thursday, we visited with Sheri Fink who authored The Little Rose and the upcoming release The Little Gnome (March 22, 2012). This best-selling author started writing during a difficult time in her life. Her story now helps children to cope with being different and embracing it. Read Sheri's story here!

Yesterday, we met author Sylvia L. Ramsey who writes across a variety of genres. She is a professor of communications, coordinator of the Academic Resource Center at GMC-Augusta, adviser for the campus newspaper, a bladder cancer survivor, the adviser for the GMC-Students for Bladder Cancer Awareness Group, and the V.P. of the American Bladder Cancer Society. Read more about her fascinating journey!

To round out the week, be sure to read my review of Donalisa Helsley's The Day No One Played Together!

We are already booked for the next three weeks with more great interviews, blogs, and book reviews to come. You could be next! For more information about being interviewed on The Writer's Block, CLICK HERE!

Keep your pen to the paper! Remember, inspiration is everywhere...

Book Review: The Day No One Played Together by Donalisa Helsley

The Day No One Played Together is a great story about the joys of compromise. Readers will discover how to find creative solutions to their disagreements (by brainstorming) from the story’s main characters, sisters Jadyn and Genesis. The girls want to play together, but have very different ideas about the games they want to play. Separately, they are miserable. As the day passes, they discover the true meaning of give-and-take. The story concludes with Jadyn and Genesis having lots of fun together while managing to learn a few new words along the way!

Illustrated by Sarah Harkey, The Day No One Played Together contains beautiful positive images of family and togetherness. Readers young and old will enjoy this book over and over again!

Buy it on!
The Day No One Played Together: A Story About Compromise

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Sylvia L. Ramsey

1) Describe your journey to becoming an author.
I began writing when I was nine-years-old because I was elected as the reporter for the 4-H Club.  We had a workshop for the reporters sponsored by the local newspaper, The Daily American Republic.  The news reporter for the pager was a Mr. Bob Roberts.  He encouraged me to write about events in our community and human interest stories.  By the time I was twelve, I was receiving about $20.00 a month for articles that I had written and submitted other that the club news.  In high school, I was on the school's newspaper staff, and in college at TRCC I was the News Editor.  That was only the beginning.  I wrote short stories, poetry and even wrote "scholarly" research articles that were published in professional journals.  Later, I began to write poetry and short stories.  Luckily, several of them were published.  This led to my first book, Pulse Points of a Woman's World, which was a book of poetry.  The next was an espionage novel, An Underground Jewell,  based on the use of language to control society. After that was the book Merchild Land that I wrote for my eldest granddaughter, Heather.  Finally, I have a new book coming out that is a memoir that focuses on survival of the rough spots that we find as we travel the road of life, Traveling a Rocky Road with Love, Faith and Guts.

2) Where do you find your inspiration to write?

We all have stories inside of us; it is a matter of getting them down on paper.  However, my inspiration is because of my experience with Stage 3 bladder cancer about seventeen-plus years-ago.  There was nothing out there information or support wise for me.  I decided to make a change in that situation for others.  I began a message board for women and bladder cancer.  I was asked by a publisher if they could publish a collection of my poetry.  I was thrilled.  After the book was published, I decided that it would make a good platform and a way to raise money to somehow help others find information and get the support that was not there for me. Since that time, the American Bladder Cancer Society was founded, and I give all the proceeds from all the book sales to help provide for others that was not there when I experienced my own battle.

3) Please tell us about your children’s book, Merchild Land.

The story behind this book is special.  My eldest granddaughter stayed with me, and attended the public school where I taught at the time.  She was in elementary and I taught high school.  It was a thirty-five mile drive to and from the school.  On the way to and from, she always wanted me to tell mermaid stories.  Later, I wrote a poem that was for her about "merchildren" and an adventure under the sea.  This poem evolved into the book because I wanted her to have something to pass on that related to that childhood memory.  I wanted her to have something she could read to her grandchildren at nap or bedtime and tell them that her grandmother wrote it for her. 

The synopsis of the book is:

Merchild Land is a delightful children's story that will keep both child and adult captivated with its lovely lyrical verse. This is a perfect bedtime story that will send you little one off to the land of mermaids, merchildren and all the wonders under the sea until evening. As the shadows fall, and it is time for bed the children dream of flying high above the mermaids' ocean home, sailing the sky's misty sea above the waves' highest dome on a boat of golden sails, and silvery wings. They visit strange lands as they ride the waves of the Milky Way, talk to the man in the moon, and dine with kings sailing the whole night through.

4) Describe how you chose your publisher.

I have decided that since I donate all the proceeds from the book sales to the American Bladder Cancer Society, that I would self-publish so they would receive as much as possible from the sales.  I check several places, and then I made a choice based on services and distribution. 

5) What other books have you written?

Pulse Points of a Woman's World - Nominated for the 41st. Georgia Writer of the Year Award.
An Underground Jewell - Near possible future/ espionage mystery.
Traveling a Rocky Road with Love, Faith and Guts, an inspirational memoir. (To be released in a few days.) 

6) How do you promote your work? What methods have worked best for you?  

Word of mouth, book signings, internet such as Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, email, online interviews. websites, reviews, and radio and television interviews.  I have many local people who come by where I work to pick up copies for gifts on holidays and special occasions.  I try to everything I can to get the word out about the reason for the books' existence, bladder cancer!

7) What are your upcoming plans for 2012?

Launching my newest book, Traveling a Rocky Road with Love, Faith and Guts. Launching my newest book, marketing all my books, and I plan to work on a biography of my father who served in WWI.  He was born in 1898, and I think his journey is worth telling. 

8) What is your definition of success as an author?

Having others want to read your writing.  Helping others by writing. 

9) What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

Keep writing, never give up on your dreams even when there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.  Remember all the authors who were rejected, and then became successful.  A good example is Frank Baum.  He used the royalties from his Father Goose book to get the Emerald City published even when he was told that no one would be interested in a "classical" children's' story.  He wrote thirteen books in the series, and then...Disney produced the Wizard of Oz.  That was the story of Frank Baum.  He was a father and a traveling salesman who never gave up on a dream.


Author, professor of communication/s, coordinator of the Academic Resource Center at GMC-Augusta, adviser for the campus newspaper, the advisor for the GMC-Students for Bladder Cancer Awareness Group, and the V.P. of the American Bladder Cancer Society. (  Bladder cancer survivor, and patient advocate.  Most memorable public speaking event: Guest speaker for the White House Communications Agency's observance of  Women's History Month.  Favorite quote: Reba McIntire, "To survive it takes a backbone, a funnybone and a wishbone."
Want to know more about me? Check me out here:

Thoughtful Reflections Blog

Authors Website

Facebook Page

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Sheri Fink

1)      Describe your journey to becoming a children’s author.

I wrote The Little Rose when I was going through a difficult situation. I didn't even let my husband read it at first. I put it in a desk drawer and left it there until fall of 2010 when I attended a transformational conference. I met a woman there who encouraged me to share my story and insisted that her grandchildren needed its message. When I got home from the conference, I shared the story with 20 people that I respected and trusted. Eighteen of them told me they got goosebumps when they read my writing. At that point, I started considering publishing my first children's book. I'm so glad that I did! Published in March 2011, The Little Rose has been a #1 best-seller on Amazon for over 30 weeks. The Kindle edition is also a best-seller and is currently the #2 top-rated children’s eBook on Amazon. Having the courage to write and publish my first book has completely changed my life.

2)      Where do you find your inspiration to write?

I'm inspired by my experiences and how I feel about them. I love taking something that feels like a negative and helping kids discover a way to see it in a different light, one that can be truly positive and beneficial.

3)      Please tell us about your children’s book, The Little Rose.

The Little Rose was my very first children's book. It's an enchanting story about a rose growing in a weed bed who thinks that she's the weed. She learns to accept and love herself despite her differences. It helps empower children ages 5-10 to overcome bullying and believe in themselves.

4)      Who illustrated The Little Rose? Describe your working relationship.

The Little Rose was illustrated by Mary Erikson Washam. She's so talented and wonderful to work with. We collaborated on the book via phone and email. She also illustrated my upcoming book, The Little Gnome. I love working with her!

The Little Gnome will be released March 22, 2012!

5)      Describe how you chose your publisher.

When I was considering publishing my first book, I talked with lots of authors. After learning about the traditional publishing industry and the independent publishing possibilities, I chose to self-publish. I'm an entrepreneur at heart and I believed in my book enough to invest and bring it to market much quicker than would have been possible going the traditional route. There are advantages and disadvantages to both paths, but independent publishing was the right one for me at the time.

6)      What is Author Success Academy?

I created Author Success Academy to help aspiring authors to understand how to write, publish, and market their books so that they can become successful entrepreneurs. Author Success Academy is an author mentoring program that provides the mindset, strategies, resources, and support needed for success. The 12-week program includes audio and video downloads, bi-monthly group coaching calls, an Action Guide book, expert interviews, templates and tools, and surprise bonuses all designed to transform authors' writing careers and lives.

7)      What other projects do you have in the works?

I have lots of projects in development as part of "The Whimsical World of Sheri Fink" brand right now. It's an exciting time! My second children's book, The Little Gnome, will be published on March 22. Set in a Victorian garden, The Little Gnome is a heartwarming tale about a garden gnome experiencing his first winter and helps kids of all ages embrace change while learning about the seasons.  My first children's book, The Little Rose, is being adapted for the stage and will debut later this year. I'm currently writing two new books, one that expands the universe of The Little Rose for younger readers and the next book in my series which will be released in 2013.

8)      As a best-selling author, how do you promote your work? What methods have worked best for you?

I find that a lot of people hear about my book through word-of-mouth. People who read The Little Rose tend to tell their friends and it just takes off from there. A lot of sharing takes place on Facebook and Twitter. I'm very accessible and I think people really like that. I also find in-person author events to be very rewarding. It's a lot of fun for me and it helps spread the beautiful message of The Little Rose to lots of children who need it. I feel so fortunate for all of my fans who have made this a wonderful journey for me!

9)      What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

My best advice is to find the right mentor. A mentor is someone you can trust who can guide you in the right direction and help you overcome obstacles along the way. Learning from someone who's already successful dramatically shortens the learning curve and makes it a better experience. It's had a very positive impact on my author career so far and I highly recommend it.

10)   What is your definition of success as an author?

For me, success is hearing from children and adults that my books make a difference in their lives. I love receiving fan mail (something I never imagined would happen to me!). I want to inspire and delight children all over the world while planting seeds of self-esteem that can have lifelong benefit.

Author Bio

Sheri Fink is a #1 best-selling children’s author, founder of Author Success Academy, and an international speaker. Sheri writes books that inspire and delight children while planting seeds of self-esteem. Her first book, The Little Rose, has been a #1 best-seller on Amazon for over 30 weeks and is the #2 top-rated children’s ebook on Amazon. Her second inspirational children’s book, The Little Gnome, will be published in March 2012. Sheri’s passion for helping other authors’ dreams come true blossomed into the Author Success Academy, a mentoring program that transforms aspiring authors into successful entrepreneurs.

Contact Sheri

Facebook Fan Page:
Twitter:  (@Sheri_Fink)
The Little Rose Book Website:
The Little Rose Book Trailer:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Lisa Eichlin

1) How did you become an author? Describe your journey.

After my cousin died, I decided to write a children's book about him for my son. After I finished, I decided everyone should know what a special person my cousin Michael was.

2) Do you prefer any particular literary genre?

Just children's books.

3) Where do you find your inspiration to write?

I like to write about real people. I used to make up stories for the kids when I was a preschool teacher. The stories were always about the kids in my class doing different things.

4) Please tell us about your children’s book, The Bravest Boy I Ever Knew.

This is my favorite question. This book is about a boy named Michael who tells about his best friend who is disabled. In this story Michael tells about the things his friend CAN do, not what he can't. This book teaches a great lesson about friendship and acceptance. I really want the "regular children and adults" of the world to see these kids not as someone to feel sorry for, just accept them for who they are. Disabled children can have the same likes, dislikes, talents, and interests as other children.

5) Describe how you chose your publisher.

Some people might think this is silly but, I kept researching publishers, and every time I looked, Tate Publishing kept popping up. I saw this as a sign from God that this is who I should go with.

6) What other projects do you have in the works?

I have a story about a girl named Sophie ( a real girl I used to have at the preschool) who likes to wear her shoes on the wrong feet. I don't want to give away the whole story.

7) How do you promote your work? What methods have worked best for you?

I've done book signings. I'm on Facebook and LinkedIn. I have also donated copies of my book to MDA and I give part of the proceeds for the book to The Familial Dysautonomia Foundation (the disease my cousin fought against for 43 years).

8) What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

My advice to new authors is to love what you do and keep doing it no matter what, and don't let anyone tell you your book isn't good enough.

9) What is your definition of success as an author?

I measure my success by seeing the kids in my school walk through the halls saying, "Hey, Mrs. Eichlin! I got your book out of the library today!"

10) What is next for you in 2012?

Not quite sure, just spending time with my family.

11) Where can readers find your work?

You can find my book on as well as I also have a Facebook page for the book:

About the Author

I live in NJ with my husband and 2 children. I have a BA in English. I taught preschool and was the director for thirteen years, and now I am a paraprofessional who loves working with children and seeing their every day accomplishments. Besides working, I love being with my family.


Book Review: The Bravest Boy I Ever Knew

Lisa Eichlin has written a wonderful book about the relationship between a young boy and his best friend who has overcome adversity. The Bravest Boy I Ever Knew encourages the reader to meet challenges head-on and enjoy life rather than succumb to limitations. The story is light-hearted, positive, and uplifting. It also encourages perserverance. The illustrations are colorful and fun.

I would recommend this book to anyone who needs a lesson in courage and tolerance. The Bravest Boy I Ever Knew teaches those concepts well.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Alessandro Bioletti

1)  Tell us how you became an artist/illustrator?

Since I was young I always drew. I invented many things but most faithfully drew the Disney characters. Once, I brought a drawing to school and the teachers gave me compliments. They asked me who drew it. Because I was a very shy child I told them the person who drew  it was my cousin!!

Seriously, I thought I would do this job at 16 years old, when I was in art school. I was always attracted to comics, so initially I wanted to become a cartoonist. But after realizing that I hadn't a great talent to write stories, I dedicated myself to write stories with pictures. All of my illustrations depict a scene with very clear specific meaning. I do a lot of research before drawing. I like the details!

2)  Do you specialize in any particular medium? Describe your style.

As I said my passion for drawing grew up watching comics. It always felt clear and concise, but rich in meaning and details. A good part of my style comes from this visual experience. In these 5 years I have made a strong research to understand my strengths. I had the opportunity to talk with many professionals who advise me with some good tips.

The hand-made techniques in which I specialize are watercolor and acrylic. But if there's a chance I like to use any technique. For many works I have to use computer, but I prefer to draw freehand, inking and then coloring with computer. Although I'm young in some ways, I would keep some traditions.

3)  Where do you live and work?

I live and work in Turin, a town in northern Italy. The city of Fiat and the best chocolate in the world (personal note!) Because I make many works with my notebook I do not need big spaces. But I have a small studio with a sloping desk, a library with many different books that inspire me, a sofa, little table and another desk with a computer that I never use.
Recently my sweetheart and I started thinking about to moving to Tokyo.
Within a few years maybe, if you ask me the question, I will answer Tokyo instead of Turin!

4)  Who or what inspires you?

Well, my fiance is the biggest source! But I am also inspired by everything around me. I like crowded places because I like to see the movements of people, how they react in certain occasions, the gestures.
I need these little details when I have to invent something. For this reason I often use public transport.
Then when I draw an illustration, depending on the subject, I do a lot of research on internet or on books.

 5)  What was your first illustration job?

My first job was for a yoga center in my town. I was required to make illustrations for their home page. I think was 2005. Then I did other jobs, including working in 2008 for an agency in Tokyo. I did some illustrations for a monthly magazine-- it was fun! Unfortunately after one year because of the economic crash my cooperation is finished. I also worked with the SF anthology of narrative "ALIA the archipelago of the fantastic" for almost all editions. I been able to illustrate many stories of well-known SF authors like Cory Doctorow. Perhaps it is a trivial, but when I draw an illustration I make it with the same passion as the first that I drawn.

6)  Describe your body of work. Thus far, which project has been the most fulfilling? Why?

Earlier this year I received some interesting proposals. I'm working with an Italian courier named "AWS". I created the character of the company and for every event I create illustrations. One of the latest work I've done is a site for a Japanese soprano who will be online in a few days. Also for Japan at May my works will be published on a self-produced ZINE by a group of illustrators of Tokyo. Perhaps the most interesting works are the most recent, because the ancient works have already been seen and already been known.

7)  Where can your works of art be found?

Surely, on my home page: Recently I created my own studio, called STUDIO MOMAKON. With this project I would like to promote my art in various media. My studio wants to become a point for private customers and for companies who want to have a different image than usual. You can find more information about my studio on:

8)  What is your definition of success as an artist?

It 's a good question, especially when an artist decides to take this job seriously. For me success is not just money. I think it is having accomplished the projects that we set out to during a career. Of course it is also the consolidation of our own creative taste for a lot of people!

 9)  What do you plan to accomplish in 2012?
In March, I will go to Bologna for the Children Book Fair, where I hope to get new and interesting knowledge! In May I will be participating in an exhibition in Tokyo. Meanwhile I have several partnerships with some clients. Of course I'll advertise on various social networks, so if you want, follow me! This year I intend to open myself in different markets, such as children's books, internet, etc ... I think the time is right to do it.


My name is Alessandro Bioletti, I'm an illustrator, and I live in Turin. When I was 16 years old, I started to study Japanese. When I was 21 years old, I worked for an advertising agency in Tokyo as a freelance illustrator. In 2010, I started collaboration with another advertising agency in my city as a illustrator/ graphic designer. Today, after opening STUDIO MOMAKON, I'm continuing my activities as an illustrator / graphic designer freelance wherever there are requests!


Monday, March 5, 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Kerry G. Johnson

1) Please describe your journey to becoming an artist.

Art has always been my passion. In fact, I knew in kindergarten that I was gifted and blessed as an artist after drawing a picture of cat that won first place in a citywide contest of youth. I later honed my skills in college and through my employment as a graphics director at various newspapers throughout the country, including The Baltimore Sun, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Currently, I work as the Director of Art and Special Publications at The American Physical Society (APS Physics) in College Park, Md.

In this role, I worked with my colleague, Rebecca Thompson to create “Spectra”, a comic book teen superhero with laser powers. Outside of work, I’m involved with many different art and graphic design projects, including writing and illustrating webcomics and children’s books. I also draw caricatures for personalized gifts and I often get hired as a caricaturist for parties, corporate meetings and other social events.

2) Do you specialize in any particular medium?

I have a diverse style for my many art projects. One project may require me using pens & markers, another could have me painting with watercolors or acrylics. When I illustrated my quick sketch caricatures, I use Sharpie markers and pastel chalks. Ultimately, many of my cartoons, caricatures and illustrations are scanned into my Apple computer. And like so many other artists, I use the Adobe Creative Suite software (Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign) for the colorization formatting of the artwork.

3) How did you become a professional caricaturist? Who have been some
of your favorite subjects?

I started drawing caricatures in high school at the Opryland Amusement Park in my hometown of Nashville, Tenn. I enjoyed that very much. While many of peers worked in fast food restaurants and other usual part-time teen jobs, that Opryland job made me realize that I could actually get paid to draw silly pictures and and meet some great people.

4) What inspired you to start your webcomic, "Harambee Hills"? Tell us about it.

It’s funny how life imitates art. "Harambee Hills" features the hilarious moments of a fictional African-American suburban family. My wife and I develop ideas for the comic based on our family and work life. For instance, our teenage daughter is a huge fan of Justin Beiber. So, I was inspired to draw a comic in which the Dad attempts to win “cool” points by showing his daughter that he is familiar with the singer. But instead of giving her a “Beiber” T-shirt, she receives a “Beaver” one instead.

5) Describe your body of work. Thus far, which project has been the most fulfilling? Why?

My work consists of caricatures, cartoons, illustrations and graphics. They have all been fulfilling in various ways. For example, as a former graphics editor for various newspapers, I’m proud of my work because it informed readers on critical and late-breaking news stories. My caricatures, cartoons and illustrations reflect a lighter side of life and provide my clients with keepsakes of family members and friends.

6) When did you illustrate your first children’s book?

I illustrated my first children’s book last month. It’s titled, You Can’t Move an Elephant in One Day written by Nicolle Brazil. It tells the heartwarming story of three boys who encounter what seems to an insurmountable obstacle. The book reflects the values of persistence, dedication and teamwork. My wife, Tawanda, and I published the work under the banner of our new company, TawKerr Publishing. I’m also illustrating another children’s book project with writer Tammi Harris that should be completed in March 2012.

Mrs. Brazil’s book isn’t my first time being published. My career in the newspaper industry had my work appearing in newspapers, magazines, websites and blogs. Additionally, many of my caricatures and artwork across the web on clothing, greeting cards and other personalized gifts.

7) What is the American Physical Society? Describe your position and responsibilities there.

The American Physical Society (APS Phyics) is the nation’s leading organization of physicists with more than 50,000 members. I lead the association’s in-house design department. We use our graphic design skills to help promote physics for our APS members ad to provide the general public with informative and eye-appealing physica materials. Some of the projects that we produce include: annual reports, newsletters, posters, t-shirts, magazines and activity books. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I illustrate the comic book, Spectra for

8) Tell us about some of the awards you have received.

I've been blessed with many accolades throughout my career. Here are some recent highlights:

2010, Glyph Comics Awards nominated in the Rising Star category, presented by the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC)

2008, first place: the National Arts Program for Illustration[2]

2002, 2001, 1996, first place: Press Club of Western Pennsylvania’s Golden Quill Award for News Illustration

2002, Society for News Design Award of Excellence for Photo illustration

2001, 1998, 1994, 1993, first place: Pittsburgh Black Media Federation’s Robert L. Vann Award for Feature Illustration

2000, second place: National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Heritage Award for Editorial Cartooning

1996, first place: National Association of Black Journalists NABJ Award for Art and Design

9) What is your definition of success as an artist?

For me, success is being able to earn a good living and live comfortably as an artist. Additionally, I’ve experienced success based on the favorable reactions to my cartoons, illustrations and design work. I have been blessed to produce work that has been recognized favorably by my professional peers and the general public.

10) What do you plan to accomplish in 2012?

I plan to continue to work with my talented wife to produce more funny and entertaining Harambee Hills comics and to spread the word about You Can’t Move an Elephant in One Day and my many other upcoming projects. We have also have plans to produce a Harambee Hills book. We are excited about the great things that are in store for our family!

Author Bio

Kerry G. Johnson is a creative and experienced art director, caricaturist, cartoonist and graphic designer. He’s an award-winning artist whose work has been published in local and national publications, web sites and blogs. Kerry also illustrates caricatures at private homes, schools, corporate functions, church events and local festivals.

He’s currently the director of art and special publications at the American Physical Society in College Park, Md. Before joining APS, he worked as the newsroom graphics director at the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

In 2008, he debut his webcomic, "Harambee Hills" about the semi-autobiographical character Gerard James and his daily life observations with his modern African-American family, co-workers and wacky neighbors of Harambee Hills, a fictional suburban neighborhood outside Washington, D.C.

Kerry and his wife, Tawanda, a press secretary and media specialist, live in Columbia, Md., with their two children.

Twitter: @caricaturekerry



Go Comics: Harambee Hills

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kenworthy Interviews: Author Raychelle Muhammad

[Guest blogger John Kenworthy is author of the chilling new novel The Missionary and the Brute, a thriller set in Tanzania, East Africa. Kenworthy's previous books have included The Hand Behind the Mouse: an intimate biography of Ub Iwerks and Bungee Jumping & Cocoons. He is the Founder/Executive Director of Brick by Brick for Tanzania!, Inc.]

1) With your background in Sports Management and personal training, how did you decide to transform that passion for health and wellness into books?

In my former life, I worked in management, dabbled in real estate, and owned several businesses. After becoming a personal trainer, I decided to go back to school and obtain a degree in the field. I also resumed homeschooling my daughter. The year-round program took 3 years to complete. There were a lot of ups and downs during that period of my life. During my last year in the program, my father died suddenly from a heart attack. On a brighter note, my daughter skipped two grade levels and blossomed both academically and creatively. My plate was full and there was no time to grieve. I am a recovering workaholic, so I kept my head down and I pressed on. In the spring, I graduated Summa Cum Laude (with highest honors). Needless to say, I was proud of my achievements, but I was also exhausted. Ironically, I had studied fitness and wellness, but when it was all over I was neither fit nor well.

According to Dr. Bill Hettler, wellness is comprised of six dimensions: occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional. The challenge is to find balance across all six dimensions. I wanted to use my degree in a way that would allow me to continue to homeschool my daughter and keep balance in my family life. After weighing my options, writing became my occupation. It made my schedule flexible enough that I could fit in some exercise or gardening. I now meet all kinds of people through social networking and promoting my books. Doing research for my blogs and freelance work keeps me mentally sharp. The creative process is a spiritual connection for me and it keeps me sane. So, whether I am writing children's books, articles on interior design, or blog posts on exercise and nutrition, I know that I am helping others live well in a way that fulfills me.

2) Your books support values such as self-esteem, courage, friendship, family, creativity and the importance of education in a beautifully positive manner that is truly unique. When you were a child, who or what was your source of inspiration and support for instilling those values in yourself?

Thank you! My mother, Regena V. Thomas, was a force of nature and I credit her for instilling all of those values in each of her six children. She set very high standards for us academically which quickly spilled over into our extracurricular activities. She showed us love and held us accountable. We spent a lot of time in the library for both school and leisure reading. I recall wondering why there were not more books about people who looked like me. My mother encouraged us to read everything that interested us. It certainly didn't hurt that we were enrolled in gifted and talented programs through high school. We were exposed to challenging academic subjects, the arts, foreign languages, clubs, and athletics. A well-rounded education builds self-esteem, it inspires creativity, and it removes fear, but it takes a village.

3) How did you create your story? Did you storyboard the sequences? Or did you jump right in to the narrative and think of the imagery after? Share with us if you will the process by which you created your work.

Every story is a bit different, but I would have to say that my daughter inspires all of them in some way. My "Like You" series is written with the specific aim of teaching children good character, the importance of family and education, friendship, healthy lifestyles, achievement, and to love themselves. So, I start with an overall theme and feel for the book, do some brainstorming, and then decide on the sequence using an outline. It is much easier for me to create my framework and then be creative within those parameters. I write the story first, but because I am a visual person, I edit according to whether or not my words can easily translate into an illustration. Sometimes the text dictates the imagery and sometimes the imagery dictates the text. If something in the manuscript doesn't work, it is obvious when I attempt to illustrate it.

4) How did you decide the methodology of publishing? Did you shop it to agents/traditional publishers first? Please tell us how you came to decide to self-publish? Has that met your expectations?

Initially, I did send out Little Girls Like You, Little Boys Like You, Fit Girls Like You, and Fit Boys Like You to 5 or 6 publishers. I did get some positive feedback, but I quickly realized that if I wanted to keep my vision intact, self-publishing was the way to go. The "Like You" series will be comprised of at least 10 titles. I want the look and feel of these books to be consistent. I have already created the characters, themes, cover design, and some of the related companion pieces (activity books, calendar, etc.). A traditional publisher would have to be willing to take on the whole project. Realistically, these books are geared for African-American children and I am very clear on what I would like to accomplish. We are a grossly underrepresented group in the literary world. I chose CreateSpace (an Amazon company) and by publishing my series with them I retain creative control, ownership of my work, broad distribution options, and a greater share of the profits. Hopefully, I am producing something of value that will impact all children, especially children of color. The most challenging part will be marketing, but I am up for it.

5) What is next for you? Are you working on more books? What is the inspiration behind them?

I have written the next two installments in the "Like You" series entitled Smart Girls Like You and Smart Boys Like You. Currently, I am illustrating Smart Girls and working on rough sketches for Smart Boys. I am preparing the entire series for broader distribution which requires some tweaking of the existing titles. There is an academic calendar in the works to accompany Smart Girls and Smart Boys as well as an activity book and children's cookbook.

I have written 3 picture books that I am currently submitting to agents and traditional publishers. One is inspired by my fiesty nieces; one is a hopeful story about a little boy who must adjust to a new life after his family is forced to downsize; and the third is an imaginative look at how the loss of something valuable may touch the life of the person who finds it.

To keep working at becoming a better illustrator, I have launched a line of greeting cards.  I am finishing the birthday card category with more to come!

In the health and fitness arena, I am blogging at Journeys Fitness ( and doing some freelance writing. Within the next 4-6 weeks, I should finish an ebook on circuit training that I am under contract to co-write. I will also be teaching a course for aspiring personal trainers starting mid-April.

As you know, one of my most exciting projects is my blog Raychelle Writes ( and the interviews I am doing on The Writer's Block ( (Read John Kenworthy's interview HERE!) I have met so many talented people and learned something fantastic from each and every one of them. They make me a better a writer, illustrator, and entrepreneur.

6) When you write – do you have a specific audience in mind when crafting your tales? Who is your ideal reader?

It depends on the genre. My goal is always to add quality to the reader's life. I love children's picture books for ages 0-12, so I try to write books that will challenge younger children without boring the older children. That is no small feat. I write what I like to read and then I run them by my 12-year old. I suppose that my ideal reader is anyone who wants to learn something new and walk away with something positive whether the book is fiction or non-fiction.

7) What has been the most challenging aspect of publishing the books as you have done?

The most challenging aspect of self-publishing has been remaining patient with the process. The author controls the time table and I am a results-driven kind of girl. It begins and ends with me and there is no one to blame if I miss my own deadlines. In my mind's eye, I am able to see the finished product, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to finish what I start. I also get new ideas for other projects while I am working. What works best for me is to keep a pad and pen nearby so that I can revisit these ideas later.

8) What is the most gratifying part?

The most gratifying part of self-publishing is knowing that I have finished a project from beginning to end that will enhance someone else's life while staying true to my vision.

9) How has your community – friends, family, neighbors – reacted to your work?

The reactions have been very positive. In the beginning, there were some who questioned my commitment to writing. But, I don't make it a habit of worrying with what people think about what I do. I have many interests and I pursue them all. Eventually, each of those interests will translate into a book or two. Education and homeschooling are huge parts of my life as are sports, health, and fitness. I enjoy cooking, interior design, gardening, real estate, and sewing. I believe that I have a duty to share the gifts I have and everything I have learned with as many people as possible. For me, writing is one of the best ways to do that.

10) As a writer – what do you want your eventual great-grandchildren to know about you and your work?

Good question. Should I have great-grandchildren, I want them to know that I trusted my instincts, I worked hard, and that I helped as many people as I could along the way.

Connect with Raychelle:





Twitter: @RaychelleWrites and @journeysfit

Amazon Author Page

Lulu Author Spotlight Page

Greeting Card Universe Store


John Kenworthy's Links:

The Missionary and the Brute on Amazon (paperback):

The Missionary and the Brute on Amazon (Kindle):

The Missionary and the Brute on publisher's site:

The Missionary and the Brute Blog: