Friday, August 10, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today, I am celebrating my 44th trip around the sun! The fact that I lived to see it is present enough. I offer my sincerest gratitude to my many well-wishers and all of you who have supported Raychelle Writes to date. It has been a great year and I am excited about the possibilities of the coming months. So, I invite you to enjoy this day. If you are reading this, someone thought that you still have something of value to offer the world. I know that I do, so let's get it in!

(In lieu of the many gifts I know you want to give me, visit me on Facebook and twitter and give me a "like" or follow me--only if you want to... SMILE)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Raychelle Reviews: When Grandmama Sings by Margaree King Mitchell

When Grandmama Sings by Margaree King Mitchell (illustrated by James E. Ransome) is an uplifting story of courage, strength, and perseverance in the face of adversity. Grandmama Coles, a jazz singer from Pecan Flats, Mississippi, is given an opportunity to tour the Deep South during the summer months with a swing jazz band. She is accompanied by her granddaughter, Belle, who learns that using one's talents and standing up for one's beliefs are important in spite of opposition.

When Grandmama Sings is set during the 1940s where segregation and discrimination were the order of the day. Told through the eyes of Belle, the reader learns something of the history of race relations in the U.S. While Grandmama Coles and the band suffer ill-treatment at the hands of club and business owners, they press on in their quest to perform--sometimes even for free. Leading the charge is Grandmama Coles who demands justice while her gift for song brings people people from different walks of life together. Belle has a close and loving relationship with her grandmother. These acts of bravery only serve to bring them closer.

A wonderfully-illustrated book with the artwork of James E. Ransome, When Grandmama Sings is a story that children and adults alike will enjoy time and time again.

Read Margaree King Mitchell's interview on The Writer's Block! 

The Writer's Block Interviews: Margaree King Mitchell

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and where you live and work.

I was born and grew up in Holly Springs, Mississippi and graduated from Holly Springs High School. When I graduated from high school I wanted to see another part of the country, so I applied and was accepted at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. I now live in Kansas City.

2. Describe your journey to becoming an author.

I started out writing short stories which were published in church denomination magazines i.e. Lutheran, Methodist, etc. Then I became director of my church’s drama department. At the time I lived in Memphis, Tennessee. Seeing characters that I had written come alive and have an emotional impact on the audience was awesome. It was there that I became aware of the power of the written word. In my spare time I was working on my dream of writing screenplays.

When we lived in Memphis my son started kindergarten. And his school had "Grandparents Day". My son’s grandmothers lived in other cities so he had no one to invite to school. When he arrived at school, not only had students brought their grandmothers, some had also brought their grandfathers. When my son got home he was very sad that he didn’t have any grandfathers. I explained to him that both of his grandfathers had died before he was born. But he didn’t understand. Every day he came home from school sad because he had no grandfathers. To teach my son about the lives of his grandfathers, I searched the public library for picture books that would show what life was like for his ancestors. I couldn’t find any. Then I went to all the bookstores in town. I still couldn’t find any. Therefore, I decided to write the books myself.

I wanted the books to be set in the rural South because that is where I’m from. I grew up on my grandfather’s farm in Holly Springs, Mississippi. I wanted each book to focus on an ordinary person who does extraordinary things for the time period in which they lived. I patterned the Uncle Jed character in my first book, Uncle Jed's Barbershop, after my grandfather. My grandfather owned his own farm during a time of segregation and racial discrimination. And he showed me that a person can rise above their surroundings and make their dreams come true.

I wanted to show the same things in my books.

3. Do you gravitate toward any particular genre in writing?

Picture books. When I was looking for books for my son I wanted him to see what life was like for his ancestors. I believe that being able to see pictures along with the story will have a great impact on anyone reading the book.

4. Tell us about When Grandmama Sings. What inspired you to write it?

My goal is to write historical picture books that are set in each decade from the early 1900s through the 1960s. When Grandmama Sings is the story that is set in the 1940s. In my previous books, Uncle Jed’s Barbershop and Granddaddy’s Gift, the special relationship is with a girl and a male ancestor, i.e. great uncle and grandfather. I wanted to show a close relationship with a girl and a female character in When Grandmama Sings. Plus, the character mirrors my relationship with my grandmother. Although my grandmother didn’t sing, she and I were really close. She taught me how to do the things she knew, like how to cook.

In this book I also wanted students to know that regardless of the conditions in the world, if you continue to sing your song (exercise your gift), and believe in yourself and in your abilities, then great things can happen.

5. Describe your path to publication. Has this experience met/exceeded your expectations?

After submitting the manuscript for my first book, Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, for two years I received nothing but rejection letters. However, they were personal rejection letters from editors telling me that they loved my story but it didn’t fit in with their publishing plans. Finally, frustrated about how those editors could love my story and still not publish it, I decided to submit it directly to the publisher of Simon & Schuster. Within a month I had a contract.

When Uncle Jed's Barbershop was published, I was asked to read the story during story time at the main branch of the Little Rock Public Library. This was the first time kids, other than my son, had heard the story so I was anxious to see their reaction. After I finished reading the book, parents who were fascinated by the historical aspects of the story dominated the question and answer period. And I didn’t get any comments from children. But as I was leaving a little girl was waiting for me by the door. She said, “I liked your story about Uncle Jed. I want to be a doctor when I grow up but my grandmama keeps telling me I’ll never be one. Now I know I can be a doctor.”

I knew then I had achieved my goal in writing Uncle Jed's Barbershop. Since that day I have received many letters from children all across the country telling me their dreams. They also tell me who says they can’t achieve their dreams and why. But because of Uncle Jed’s story, they now know they can be anything they want to be if they just don’t give up.

Having my books published has far exceeded my expectations. I didn’t fully realize the effect my books would have on children. I had hoped my books would be viewed positively. But the result has been overwhelming. A couple of years ago a young lady who had just finished college told me that she had become a teacher because of reading Uncle Jed’s Barbershop. She realized she could achieve her dreams if she worked hard and didn’t give up.

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

I started promoting When Grandmama Sings six months before publication. I started with "SAVE THE DATE" emails. Then I sent monthly notices. And as the time of publication became near, I sent notices every two weeks. When the reviews started coming in I sent copies of the reviews to my email list.

My author Facebook page has also played a big role in the promotion of my books.

I also have friends and relatives in cities throughout the United States who actively promote my books. As a result when my new book, When Grandmama Sings, was published I had book related events scheduled through the first six months of the year. I appreciate all the support that my books receive.

7. Who are your favorite authors? What is on your reading list right now?

I read all types of books. I love the stories of Mildred Taylor, especially Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Her stories are set in Mississippi and she writes about racism, segregation and familial strength.

Currently I am reading books written by two friends: Flow by H. C. Lawrence (YA paranormal) and Destiny by Bonnie Hopkins (Christian fiction). I also love espionage books. I also love books by Maeve Binchy. Her stories are set in Ireland and focus on friendship and relationships.

8. Describe a typical day in your life.

Every morning I walk in a park that has a walking trail along the Missouri River. It is calm and peaceful there. Story ideas come to me as I’m walking. I break up my walk by periodically sitting on the wrought iron benches that face the Missouri River. There I plan my day. I return home, have breakfast and start writing. I write until about one o’clock. Then I do other book related things, like book promotion, marketing new work, email, social media, interviews, meetings, etc.

9. What projects do you have in the works?

 I recently completed a YA novel. I am doing research for another historical fiction picture book.

10. What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

Write the stories that are in your heart. Believe there is an audience for your work. Be confident. Don’t give up when you get rejection letters. Have the courage to start pursuing your dream. And above all, have the faith to continue despite the obstacles.

About the Author

Margaree King Mitchell is the author of the Coretta Scott King Honor Book Uncle Jed's Barbershop, illustrated by James E. Ransome, Simon & Schuster, and Granddaddy's Gift, illustrated by Larry Johnson, Scholastic. An award winning musical featuring Broadway veteran Ken Prymus has been adapted from Uncle Jed's Barbershop.

Margaree is the creator of the "EveryBody Has A Dream" program, which empowers students in urban and rural areas to shoot for the stars with aspirations for their lives. Her new book, When Grandmama Sings, illustrated by James E. Ransome, was published January 3, 2012 by HarperCollins.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Stephen Black

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and where you live and work.

I am an American who now lives in Asia. I do many things: this year I exhibited Depth, a series of conceptual photographs taken underwater. I worked on the production and release of 3how's first CD/music download and, most of all, I worked towards completing Tiong Bahru, a book I have been working on for two years. Tiong Bahru is a part of Singapore known for its food and distinctive architecture.

I have lived and worked in Manhattan, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Paris. As an artist I have worked on many exciting video, photographic and music projects that were greatly rewarding, little publicized; underground stuff. At the other extreme,I have also created promos for Cartoon Network/Turner Classic Movies as well as worked for CNN, Fox, Fuji TV, MTV and France 2. I enjoy collaborating and/or documenting. In this regard, I have worked with Stelarc, Kazuo Ono, Min Tanaka, Sadato, David Sylvain, Michael Lee and a bunch of artists from Manhattan's Rivington School. 3how is a collective musical group and we are always doing something new, often with text and theatre.

2) Describe your journey to becoming an author.

Since I can remember, I have been surrounded by hardcovers and paperbacks. I read Publisher’s Weekly throughout grade school, often while riding in the car with my dad. He still sells books. My mother has never stopped encouraging me. She has the patience of a saint. I received high grades in English throughout my schooling. Wrote for the high school newspaper, wrote for a Japanese photo magazine, wrote tons of stuff which has yet to see the light of day. I was also fortunate to study with Hollywood legend Robert McKee, both in a semi-private class and in a packed auditorium.

3) Do you gravitate toward any particular genre in writing? Artistic mediums?

The "I novel" style always interested me, but ultimately I am more concerned with how to make narrative stories read like musical collages.I also like writing scripts. I have no preferred artistic medium, but I do enjoy experiencing the works of individuals who defy characterization.Picasso seemed to change every ten years or so, yet there is always something that is constant in his work. John Zorn creates music in a great variety of styles, yet usually there is something of "him" in all of his work, something besides his amazing technical skills. Roald Dahl and Agatha Christie both have signatures styles, yet they do not seem to be copying themselves.

4) Tell us about Obama Search Words. What inspired you to write it?

Obama Search Words was started well before the President was the Democratic Party Presidential Nominee. My mother came to Singapore and had with her a copy of Obama’s Dreams From My Father. I read it and learned that Obama lived in Indonesia for a few years of his childhood. I thought food was an interesting way to look at his life— and, whether he was going to remain being “just” a Senator or something greater, I would have a unique, “evergreen” look at his life. I went to Jakarta and was very fortunate to talk about his eating habits with his neighbors, teachers and classmates. Obama’s mother made sandwiches for his school lunch, but sometimes he ate local food at the school canteen: I learned things like this.

Soon after Jakarta I went home to Ohio, where I made a trip to Chicago to do more food-related research. During this time Barack Obama narrowly defeated Hillary Clinton! The title of the project, Obama Jalan Jalan ( and its concept drastically changed as I realized that I no longer needed the “safety” of food as a subject matter. The man whose life I had been researching was on his way to becoming the President of the United States! The creation of a book of facts and fact-based fiction about Obama’s life became my goal.

5) Describe your path to publication. Has this experience met/exceeded your expectations?

I cannot say I expected anything from my writing. Unless you are writing for a magazine or a publisher, there are no guarantees. You cannot predict luck. Whatever I write, I hope it is the best that I can do. If it finds an audience, I am fortunate and thankful.

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

Marketing, publicity and promotion: I am now starting these things, although I likely published the first Singapore-based ebook on Kindle in 2009. The first reason for this is efficiency: Marketing is, more or less, a full-time job and it did not seem justifiable to spend a huge amount of time and resources to market a single book. The effort required to market 10 books is almost equal to that required to market one. This article presents the same argument:

Now, in 2012, I have the following titles on line: Contact With Shadow, Furikake, Halus: Portrait and Landscape, On Seng Poh Road and Obama Search Words. Let the publicity begin.

The second reason I didn’t do marketing is that I naively and incorrectly thought that, even without a publicity campaign, that a Kindle book about the President of the United States would attract search engines and audiences. Wrong!

Now, almost daily, we see new services which minimize the obstacles between audience and author. iPhones, tablets and ebook readers are waiting for writers, hopefully including those writers on my Book Merah ebook imprint. Here, I should also plug my band, 3how. 3how performs all kinds of brilliant, daring crazy stuff, sometimes based on my text or things we’ve co-produced. We twice performed Big Homer, a rock opera about a pigeon who becomes lost in 1980s Singapore.
3how’s PR materials include a link to Book Merah. And, when I do visual art exhibitions, my text works are also mentioned.

The idea is simply that my "brand" is whatever I do: art, writing, photography, video, music and breeding thoroughbred Chihuahuas. (Just kidding about the Chihuahuas.)

Once I finally have my online presence updated, will look into publicity services. Finally, I hope to reach out to traditional publishers and distributors, especially those that publish art and photography books. My latest book, Tiong Bahru, is an artist’s book disguised as a travel guide; part Paul Theroux, part Joseph Beuys, part Discovery Channel.

Finally, I have to mention my Ungluing Obama campaign: Hopefully this will reach its goal and also increase awareness of my other projects.

7) Who are your favorite authors? What is on your reading list right now?

Paul Theroux, Paul Aster,Don DeLillo, Steve Martin. Now, the only things I allow myself to read are book and reference materials related to Tiong Bahru.

8) Describe a typical day in your life.

I have not had a “typical day” in quite a while. My writing schedule is unpatterned. In May I was in Bali, doing almost nothing but writing, but a block of time like that is a rare gift. I pay the bills with photography, video and writing assignments. Lately, I am trying to make the unglue campaign a success, which means sending off hundreds of emails of various kinds.

9) What projects do you have in the works?

There are two projects I must finish soon: an updated version of the Agaricus blazei Murrill Notebook( and a story about a Burmese commercial diver in Singapore.Here is story describing a performance in which Joe, the diver, joined forces with 3how.

10) What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

Writing and art are very hard work, dangerous in some ways. I don’t recommend them; too unpredictable... The creation of a book is not a package tour, a weekend hobby nor a university class. To paraphrase Tolstoy, ink is blood.


Stephen Black established Book Merah in 2007 as a platform for ebook projects. He also works in conceptual art, photography and video.

Book Merah is on Facebook and Twitter. will soon be updated

Monday, August 6, 2012

Guest Blogger Paul Taylor: The Best Books for Surviving Pregnancy and Motherhood

Greetings, All! Guest blogger Paul Taylor is giving me the day off and sharing some of his recommendations for books on pregnancy and motherhood. Feel free to leave comments!


Congratulations, you’re pregnant. Now what? Having a baby can be unnerving when you have no idea what to expect. These ten books will fill in all your knowledge gaps and leave you well prepared to give birth to, and raise your child.

1. What to Expect When You’re Expecting- The quintessential pregnancy book. This is a classic tome containing everything you will ever need to know about pregnancy and childbirth. It is presented in a very dry no nonsense manner and can be a bit alarming because it includes every worst-case scenario.

2. The Mother Of All Pregnancy Books- A compilation of pregnancy knowledge from hundreds of parents and experts. This book highlights the quirky details of pregnancy that they don’t mention in other books. It centers primarily on emotions and feelings that may crop up during pregnancy.

3. The Diaper Diaries: The Real Poop on a New Mom's First Year-An entertaining, informative book on the surprises and adventures of being a new mom. This book can help sleep deprived parents put life with a new baby in perspective.

4. The Girlfriend’s Guide To Pregnancy- A witty look at being pregnant. Author Vicki Iovine dishes the real dirt on the nine months from conception to delivery. This book is perfect for first time parents who want to know what it’s really like without dry medical language.

5. The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth- A very woman focused guide to the pregnancy experience. This book offers different options for giving birth to your child and centers on maintaining a healthy mom and baby throughout the pregnancy.

6. Your Pregnancy Week by Week- A great detailed guide to help you track your pregnancy. This guide offers medical based advice of, while maintaining a warm, reassuring tone.

7. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth- A reassuring guide to pregnancy written by a well-respected midwife. This is the book for anyone considering a natural childbirth at home. Practical advice is interwoven with inspiring childbirth stories from the author’s vast experience.

8. Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn: The Complete Guide- A must have guide for parents who have had multiple pregnancies This book offers very comprehensive medical information as well as a blueprint to help you create the perfect birth plan. There is an answer for almost every medical question from conception through infancy.

9. Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy & Birth– The perfect book for first time parents. This book thoroughly covers all the essentials of parenthood. It offers great advice to set your baby up for success from the start.

10. Baby Bargains– An in depth coverage of the financial aspect of birthing and raising a child. Most guides only touch lightly or not at all on the financial details of child rearing. This offers good solid advice on how to incorporate your new baby into a budget.

While you may not have to read all these books to get a comprehensive knowledge of your pregnancy, one or more of them should set you on the road to a smooth gestation and motherhood. Sit back and enjoy the experience of raising your child.

Author Bio:

Paul and his wife Julie both spend quite a bit of time coming up with ideas, blogging, and researching all things related to childcare. They take care of all the necessary information related to “babysitters”. He personally thinks his blog will help others find information on all things related to a babysitter.