Interview with debut picture book author Shelly Roark

Hi Shelly! Welcome to Bonnie Clark Books! Tell me a little about your family and where you’re from.

I’m a southern gal who has lived in East Texas my whole life. I’ve been married to my hubby Geoff for 26 years and we have three teens—Katie (age 17), Ethan (age 15), and Gracie (age 13). Oh, and we have a sweet, sweet black lab named Rosie and a NOT-so-sweet kitten named Tigger

Your debut picture book — The Bubble Who Would Not POP! — is available this month. Congratulations! What is the theme of your book and why is this theme so important to you?

My book is about a tiny bubble with a BIG job—a little girl has asked him to take her prayer up to God. He faces surprising challenges on his journey but learns some important lessons about prayer along the way. I think teaching children about prayer is one of the greatest spiritual investments we can make. When God gave us prayer, he gave us a great treasure meant to be shared.

Have you always wanted to be a writer when you grew up? What makes you want to write for children?

I actually HAVE always loved writing. When I was a kid I wrote little stories all the time. I started writing for the school newspaper in high school and was hooked! I’ve written professionally my whole adult life and absolutely love sharing people’s stories. But writing for children has a special place in my heart. My fun hobby has always been helping with children’s ministry. Children’s books help me to combine my two passions!

Being a debut picture book author is a really big deal! How has the publishing process been for you? What advice would you give to any aspiring authors?

Little Lamb Books, my publisher, is absolutely awesome! They have been very patient with me. Sometimes “creative” people aren’t the most organized or timely. LOL! One thing I would advise anyone who has a passion for writing is . . . write. Start blogging and cultivate a presence on social media. That way you’ll have a platform and support system. No one can buy your books if they don’t know about you or them.

What were some of your favorite books when you were a child?

I still love Dr. Seuss and all his books. Winnie the Pooh stories are also just the best. Oh, and Curious George and his friend with that funny hat is the bomb. 🙂

What are some of your/your family’s favorite books today?

I’m kind of sad that my kids are too old to read children’s stories to . . . because I still really love kids’ books. However, at Christmas I read to them anyway no matter how old they are! Some of my favorites are The Tale of Three Trees, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.

Shelly, you recently shared a Back-To-School-Prayer Challenge on your blog. (which I LOVED by the way!) Tell me what prayer means to you personally.

I think it is absolutely amazing that we have this open channel of communication with God Himself! Can you believe it? What a gift! I truly feel that God wants to hear from us on this personal level. When I find myself getting agitated and feeling stressed by life’s crazies, more often than not, I realize . . . wait, I haven’t prayed. And as a parent, I’m convinced that praying for our children is one of THE MOST IMPORTANT things we can do for them. So, I try to do my best at lifting them up in prayer as much as I can.

Where can someone purchase The Bubble Who Would Not POP?

Thank you for asking! My little book is available for pre-purchase right now online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It officially launches on September 28. Yahoo! I’m so excited to share it with kiddos and their parents. The illustrations by the book’s artist Simone are absolutely stunning . . . they make me smile every time I look at them.

 

You can visit Shelly at www.shellyroarkauthor.com

There’s a Book for That!

At the start of spring this year, my kids and I were delighted to discover a birds nest in one of the hanging ferns on the front porch. We saw the momma busy at work in the mornings, but she would fly away as soon as we opened the door. In the course of just a few days we counted 3, 4 and then 5 small eggs in the nest. We would gently take down the fern to look at the nest (careful not to touch any part of it), and ooh and ahh at the little things.

bird2.jpg

One by one they hatched! We even got to witness one pecking out if its little shell. “Good job Momma bird!” we would say as she watched us in a nearby tree. She got used to our visits, and we always would say please and thank you for allowing us to watch this miracle unfold. It was the highlight of our homeschooled year.

bird4

It didn’t take long for those pink fuzzy babies to grow feathers and open their eyes. They would open their mouths when we would whistle- hoping we were their momma. The birdies grew, the pretty nest turned into a poopy, worm gut mess. (It’s hard to take care of a house with little ones!) We assured the momma she was doing a fine job.

bird3

One day we noticed two of the grown-up birds perched on the edge of the nest. We put a soft blanket under them just in case they had trouble flying. We watched in amazement as they all flew out of the nest. One landed on the ground and then used it as a runway to start again. The fourth one took some coaxing, but eventually he too flew the nest as we watched proudly. (The 5th egg never hatched.)

The whole process was so beautiful and breathtaking.

I threw out the disgusting nest, watered the thirsty fern and hung it back up on the porch. In just a matter of days, and to our surprise, we saw momma bird AGAIN busy at work. She was making a new nest!! We couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to witness this again.

bird5

But things didn’t turn out so good this time.

Like last time, we counted 3, 4 and then 5 small delicate eggs. We watched in anticipation and amazement and momma bird worked hard keeping them comfortable until they hatched. Finally, they all hatched. The sweet little things were helpless and happy. We checked on them every morning.

But one morning they didn’t move very much. We whistled and a couple of them would strain to lift their pink necks. Their eyes still glued shut. We were concerned that we hadn’t seen the momma bird in a while. We waited and prayed and looked, but the babies were fading fast and the momma was no where to be seen. We researched what to do and everything we read said that momma birds were dedicated mothers and that we should leave the nest alone. She would come back. If she could.

Sadly she tried to come back but didn’t make it. We found her on the ground close to the nest…but something else had found her first. It hit my sweet Selah the hardest. My little animal lover was devastated at this sad ending to life.

We decided to bury the lifeless babies with their nest under a tree in our yard. Tears were shed. My Selah prayed that the little birdies would “have a good time in birdie heaven.” We held each other under that tree. Both of us shocked and at a loss for words. The first nest was such a joyful experience and this was just heartbreaking. True. But sad. I was most upset for Selah. I didn’t want her to experience this inevitable part of life- which is death.

A few days later I stumbled upon a picture book title that got my attention: The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown. Yes, the same author who wrote the classic Goodnight Moon! The text copyright was 1938 but it was not published until 1958 (after her death). It was revised in 2016 and won New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2016. Of course I had to check it out from our local library.

The Dead Bird

I read it for the first time to my kids on our couch. The book was simple. Quiet. And beautiful.  My son noted that it wasn’t a happy ending. I agreed. Somewhat. In the book the children find a dead bird and bury it. Like we did with our birdies. A moment of shared reverence for life. A realization that while life is beautiful it can also be sad. But what we do with our sadness is what remains. The Dead Bird confirmed to our hearts what we had just discovered: We can choose to remember the joy. We can share our grief. We can honor life-no matter how small. We can keep living. And keep hoping. Knowing there will be another spring.

The Value of Community

A couple of weeks ago I attended a SCBWI event hosted by a friend of mine in my critique group for writers in the north Georgia area. Eight of us met at a local library and shared our kidlit writings and illustrations with other aspiring writers/illustrators. These kind of events always encourage me because I can remember being a “newbie” and nervous to share any of my work with others. But for the most part I have found that the people in this industry are very kind and encouraging.

If you want to be a writer or illustrator I think the very best thing you can do is to surround yourself with people who are where you want to be or at least a few steps ahead. There is so much you can learn from experienced writers who have been where you are. If you are teachable you can get to your goal much faster. Put your words out there, take constructive criticism, stay true to your own style and never stop writing.

Writing can be lonely and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. I was so encouraged by this group of brave women who showed up and showed their art. The world needs good words. Brave books. Inspiring stories. Just keep writing!

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

The other day someone asked me this question and it took me by surprise.

I had to take a few moments to gather my thoughts and then I answered honestly, “No.” It has been only in recent years that I have wanted to pursue writing. But writing, I think, has always been pursuing me.

Writing has been my companion for as long as I can remember. In high school I took advanced Literature and English, and tried to avoid taking Ms. Fox’s senior class because I heard it was “hard”. School came relatively easy for me so I tried to steer clear of “hard”. Somehow, however, I was enrolled in her class and writing changed for me. I absolutely hated the “work” I was putting in, but those papers I turned out were like prize possessions to me. I was getting better at writing. There was nothing more satisfying to me than having written. (Thank you Ms. Fox.)

That was when writing first whispered to me.

I pushed the feeling aside and moved forward in the next logical step for pursuing a career: college. (I mean- who makes a career out of writing anyhow?) I enrolled in one of the top engineering schools in the country, Georgia Tech, and set out to get a management degree (laugh-out-loud). Not surprisingly, my favorite classes were two writing classes: one on Shakespeare and one on the Vietnam War. School no longer came easy to me at Georgia Tech so my writing classes became my refuge. A place where I still felt “smart” in a school that for the first time made me feel…well…the opposite.

After I graduated, I was in a serious quarter-life crisis. I had a degree and no direction. Writing in my journals helped me to process this feeling of…I don’t know…failure? What did I want to be when I grew up? Was I a “grown-up”? Shouldn’t I be passionate about a career path? an industry? a business? I had no answers, so I wrote my feelings. I read lots of non-fiction and self-help about purpose and personality strengths. I also read the Bible to try to discover just who exactly I was.

Writing was my comfort.

When I got married I struggled with identity and loss and grief. (Nice way to start newlywed life- bless my sweet new husband.) Writing was my therapy. A way to express all that was inside me.

But at some point I stopped writing. I had three small children and there was just no time. When youngest was born I was happy but exhausted and longing to get to know me again after years of “just being a mom”. I had learned so much about myself, and having children made me think even deeper about life. So I started writing again. To process. To have an outlet. To teach my children about what little I knew- and more important- to explain the crazy they came from.

Suddenly, I had tons of material. My kids gave me plenty to write about. I wrote down every funny thing they said and did. When something came to my mind that I wanted to explain someday to my kids, I would write it down. We took trips to the library and I absolutely loved reading books to them. And sharing my love for words.

Whenever I would write a blog post about life I would think, “how can I explain this to my little ones at this age?” I discovered that picture books accomplished this beautifully. Of course we are all about  funny books in the Clark house, but I also loved the books that made you think. The ones that they saw themselves in. The books that explained their emotions in ways they could understand and remember.

So I fell in love with picture books. Not all of them mind you- some were terrible. But the ones that “stuck” with us sparked something in me. I started writing for children.

Writing went from a whisper to a familiar voice- my own.

I love writing for children because I believe childhood is THE most important time in a person’s life. It is the period of time that we dip from as adults when we need strength and courage. The time we remember that we are loved. Childhood is the small precious moment of our lives that shapes who we become as adults. So it is there that I want to focus my efforts. Picture books are powerful, and I want my children and any child who reads my books to remember them and draw from them when they need to later in life.

So no, I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. But I am so thankful that writing didn’t give up on me. And I am so excited to be on this journey- finally following the whisper in my heart.

Trail Mix Critique Group

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a writer’s critique group in my area. We call ourselves Trail Mix because we are a mix bag of kid lit writers and illustrators. I had no idea what was involved in traditional publishing and I am so grateful that I have been able to learn from these incredibly talented artists. Their knowledge about the industry and passion for writing have been invaluable for me on this journey. They’ve taught me to be teachable and their honesty and encouragement is the reason I am where I am today. I joined Trail-Mix to learn from other writers and discovered some amazingly kind and talented friends.