Category Archives: Little Rock Girl

The possible impossibility

We crush your spirits: you, the writer who dreams of publication. We, the bloggers who’ve been published, want you to know it’s an improbable journey.

Finishing a good book is scaling Mount Everest. Signing with an agent is reaching the summit. Finding a publisher is making it back to base camp, alive, without losing your nose to frostbite. And having a runaway book? It’s your second Everest Climb, but this one without the help of sherpas, oxygen or ropes.


It’s true for most people who dream of publishing, because most of them will never pass the dreaming stage. Some will give it a go, but they won’t master the skills. They can become better writers, but they’ll never be great novelists. The few who remain won’t devote enough time to learn the craft, revise like revising maniacs, and persevere through the rejections. They give up. After 10 years, they think it’s time to burn the manuscript and pick up golfing or quilting or karate. Life’s too short. Who can blame them?

That leaves the rest of us, and the odds get better. Way better. The handful of people left in the pool are either good and getting better, stunningly tenacious, crazy, or a combination of all three.

It is POSSIBLE! For talented writers with dedication, it’s even — dare I say? — PROBABLE!

Proof: I recently went to the Edina Barnes and Noble. I thought about the writers I know, mostly from Mankato, and their hard work and devotion to their craft. An impressive number of those writers actually sold their books.

I searched the B & N shelves for a few minutes and found several books from writers I know. Check out the pictures. (Shame on WordPress for the bizarre layout.)

We'll be the Last Ones to Let You Down, Rachael Hanel.

We’ll be the Last Ones to Let You Down, Rachael Hanel.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, Kirstin Cronn Mills.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, Kirstin Cronn Mills.

The Nearly Departed, Michael Norman

The Nearly Departed, Michael Norman

My book, Little Rock Girl, which I got to sign!

My book, Little Rock Girl, which I got to sign!

That’s not all. The store’s computer system said these other Mankato-area writers are on their shelves: Diana Joseph, Nicole Helget‘s adult novel (Nicole’s middle grade novel, Horse Camp, co-authored with Nate LeBoutillier was sold out.), Thomas Maltman, Steve Shaskan, Geoff Herbach, “the Godfather” Terry Davis, and many more, including writers who’ve published in niche markets.

I had to end the search because of a lunch date and a tired camera-phone battery .

Many of the writers I know made it. And I really don’t know that many people.

What we share in common:

  • Writing is a passion. It’s a job, not a hobby.
  • Reading is part of the job.
  • A community of writers provide support and energy to chase the dream.  (Mankato can thank the MFA department at Minnesota State University for the care and feeding of this community.)
  • We listen to Chumbawumba:

I get knocked down but I get up again

You’re never gonna keep me down

I get knocked down but I get up again

You’re never gonna keep me down

Or not.

Still, that’s the tub-thumping message: slapped by rejection, cursing the industry over a few beers with pals, and then back up again. Back to the laptop, back to the notebook.

So, yes, you can do it. You can do it. You can.

If you’re not sure, take a trip to Mankato, Minn. Perhaps New York is better, but Mankato’s way cheaper. Walk around campus. Go to the coffee shops and parks. Open yourself to the energy. It just may be your place.

Sinclair Lewis wrote parts of Main Street in Mankato. Maybe his creative energy permeates the funky river town, maybe he’s the life force of it all. Lewis said:

It is impossible to discourage the real writers – they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write.

Lewis and Chumbawumba. Quite the team.


Some extra special Tougas books

Check out the left bottom of the shelf.

Check out the left bottom of the shelf.

We were in Edina’s Barnes and Noble, so I couldn’t scream, even a happy scream. So I jumped up and down and pointed. There was my book, Little Rock Girl, on a special display with other kids nonfiction. Okay, it was on the bottom row, but it was there. Face out, too.

This was a rare moment, because B & N rarely buys, let alone features, work-for-hire books from companies whose market is schools and libraries. (I repeated this tidbit multiple times to my almost-husband.)

Immediately, though a terrifying scene flashed in my mind.


Movie: Young Adult. Character: Mavis, played by Charlize Theron. Plot: Mavis is a drunk and soon-to-be ex-writer of a snarky girls series. Think Gossip Girls.

Scene: Mavis enters a bookstore and finds the last of the series on a clearance table. She refuses to believe it. She takes out a pen and starts signing the books. The teen clerk tries to stop her, tells her these books are going back to the publisher, the store hopes it’ll get some reimbursement because they don’t sell, and sales rep is telling stores this series is done.

“I’m the author!” Mavis shouts. “People want books signed by the author!”

The clerk wrestles the books away from her. “The publishing house won’t take them back if they’re marked!”

An angry and heartbroken Mavis leaves the store. (I think she steals a book or two.)


Back and B & N, I nervously told the clerk I’m the author. She’s gracious and wished me the best in my career.

Awww ... making my book more special.

Awww … making my book more special.

I expected “Please sign the book. People want books signed by the author.”

Since she didn’t ask, I offered — hesitantly and with a voice that said don’t worry about it; you’re probably too busy.

But she was excited. She took me to a table, handed me a pen, and shows me where to sign. I thought, it’s a Sharpie – she’s not going to erase it after I leave!

I signed the books and asked my fella to take photos.

Mavis had a point, because my clerk finally said, “People want books signed by the author.” She put stickers on the cover that say “autographed.” She added, “It makes the book extra special.”

Later, at lunch, I have to stare at the menu so I don’t make eye contact with the server. No need to shout, “I just autographed my book at Barnes and Noble and if we leave a really big tip, will you go buy it?”

Lit geek? Me? Absolutely.

Little Rock Girl: A Midwest Book Award finalist

Little RockMy book, Little Rock Girl: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration, is a finalist for the 2013 Midwest Book Awards. I’d like to play it cool, but why? I’m so excited!

The program recognizes creativity in content and execution, overall book quality, and a book’s unique contribution to its subject area. Winners will be announced at the Midwest Book Awards Celebration on May 8 at the Bloomington Center for the Arts. The award is sponsored by the Midwest Independent Publishers Association (MIPA), a regional affiliate of the Independent Book Publishers Association.

Off to celebrate by indulging in Girl Scout cookies.

Small world, strange truth

The brave students who changed America's civil rights moment.

The brave students who changed America’s civil rights moment.

It’s a cliché: the world is small. Sometimes it seems so small you could wrap your hand around it and squeeze.

Clichés are rooted in truth, like this week’s discovery.

  • Uncle owns a carpet-cleaning franchise in Colorado.Wisconsin-based niece writes books, including one about the Little Rock Nine, a tween-and-teen book that swept up some nice honors and reviews.
  • Uncle reads book.
  • Uncle recognizes a name among the nine kids, the first African American students to integrate Central High in Little Rock. For years, Uncle has cleaned carpet, unknowingly, for one of the Little Rock Nine. Carlotta Walls LaNier. A regular customer, a lovely woman who never talked to my uncle about her role in America’s civil rights movement.

A big cause. A brave woman. A small world where three people share an unlikely connection.

If you put this coincidence in a novel, you’d have to be a master writer to convince readers to suspend disbelief, to stick with the story instead of tossing the book in the Salvation Army pile.

And today’s wrap-up cliché: truth is stranger than fiction.

Days late, a giveaway short

Capstone, my awesome publisher, did an online interview with me and had a contest for copies of Little Rock Girl. It’s here. Seems I was supposed to announce the whole deal on my blog.

How time flies!

The giveaway is closed. (Congratulations to those who won.) But the interview is still posted.

You have my apologies now, before I forget. Happy Friday.

Little Rock Girl in February

Black History Month begins in February, and my book, Little Rock Girl, was named one of the Top Ten Black History Books for Youth. Online searching tells me a number of schools and libraries are using the book for that purpose. It’s an incredible honor.Image

I think what makes Little Rock Girl special is its angle. There are hundreds of kid’s books on Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and the Little Rock Nine. Little Rock Girl is part of a series called Captured History. The books explore how a single photo changed a movement.

Little Rock Girl tells the story of Elizabeth Eckford, of course, but it’s much bigger than her horrific experience. The book shows how media coverage – including TV news, which was a baby at the time – affected public opinion, forced national leaders to confront the issue, and propelled the movement forward.

I worked in public relations for seven years, and I consider civil rights leaders as the founders of modern day public relations. Martin Luther King quickly learned this: no media coverage, no movement. Photos of demonstrations, arrests, and police brutality motivated African Americans to become activists, risking their jobs, their homes, and even their lives. The photos forced white citizens, particularly in the north, to face an issue they ignored. And political leaders could no longer pretend segregation was just a state issue.

Little Rock Girl is a nuanced look at complex issues ranging from state rights to the concept of “separate but equal” to the legal battles. I’m thrilled the editor at Capstone was supportive of probing deeper than biographies of civil rights leaders.

And I’m thrilled I was chosen to write it.