Baby Steps

I’ve started a new website for my young reader books: http://www.jmvanek.com. Hope you’ll follow along!

JM Vanek

Today, a new author is born–J.M. Vanek. That’s me!

Actually, I’ve been around for awhile, but as Jan Morrill, author of The Red Kimono and a few other books. But I’m preparing to start a new path–writing books for children, middle grade and young adult.

My middle grade book, Mo’s Shadow, will be released by Birdsong Publishing, June 2017. This is a story very close to my heart. It’s about a young girl named Mo, who befriends an alcoholic neighbor after her own parents divorce because her father drinks too much. It’s based on my own experiences of finding my way to love, from loss and back to love again.

My picture book, Magical Red Kimono, will be released by 4RV Publishing, Fall 2017. This book, too, is close to my heart–well, aren’t they all? 🙂

It is based on the characters, Sachi and Jubie from…

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Tami’s Serendipitous Second Half

My youngest sister, Tami, is full of surprises. A former Miss Oklahoma, she has had a long career in broadcast journalism. Polished, professional and talented in a variety of ways, I must admit, I had some concerns about whether or not she’d be happy living out in the country, because I, too, was once drawn to the solitary peace and quiet of country life, and learned the hard way–it was not as easy and peaceful as I’d expected.

But Tami seems to have found a new passion, and it came about serendipitously. I’m happy to let her share her story in the following interview. (Note: I originally suggested Tami pick five of her favorite questions to keep this post short, but as with all little sisters, she doesn’t always follow directions. 🙂 Actually, she didn’t see my note. As I tried to edit down, I decided it was all too interesting, so I’m posting the entire interview.)

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Baby sister Tami is on my mom’s lap. 🙂

Jan: If you could describe your professional life over the last twenty years in six word sentence, what would you say?

Tami: Follow the path of Forrest Gump.

Jan: How long have you lived in the country?

Tami: Danny enthusiastically purchased the ranch in November of 2015, but it took me a while to warm to the idea. He gently but persistently pushed, going as far as to move all of our furniture and housewares from storage starting in May. He set a firm “move-in” date in August, but I kept coming up with reasons to push for a later date. We finally spent our first night on the ranch on September 11, 2016.

Jan: What did you expect when you moved to the country, and how is reality different from that expectation?

Tami: I expected my back to hurt a lot. I expected long commutes, annoying traffic, not being able to shop for the things I need and enjoy. My reality is that I love our little country grocery store and shopping at Atwood’s Ranch and Home. I love being able to pick up homemade canned peaches and other foods like Grandma used to make.

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I also expected peace and quiet, which I got in spades! There’s nothing in the world like walking out the front door and watching the blood red sun set across the wide-open sky. I can’t describe the feeling when my horses hear me walking out to the pasture and come galloping to meet me at the gate.

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Jan: What ignited your passion to save horses from slaughter?

I believe God puts us where He needs us, with whatever skills He’s given us, to do His work. That may sound corny to some, but that was what I meant when I said, “Follow the path of Forrest Gump.” Like Forrest, I’ve found myself in the right place at the right time for each step in my personal and professional development. From the day I happened upon college cheerleader tryouts as I aimlessly toured campus with a college-bound friend (I made cheerleader and got a scholarship!) to the day I was “discovered” and became a TV news entertainment reporter, to the time I was “re-discovered” and recruited to run a newsroom for a local TV news affiliate, I see God’s hand in every place I’ve ever landed.

The same is true with rescuing horses.

As an investigative reporter, I see potential stories everywhere. A post popped up on my Facebook page from a group called Save a Slaughter Bound Horse. I assume Facebook has algorithms that recognize when you have an interest, and your newsfeed fills with posts and topics related to your interests. Danny and I bought each other horses for Christmas, so many of my posts revolved around horses. The Facebook gods decided I would appreciate the post about Jake – a big, beautiful gelding that looked remarkably like my new mare, Aubrey. Jake was set for slaughter, said the post, unless someone paid his “bail.” I watched the post throughout the day as concerned Facebookers desperately pleaded for donations.

A skeptic to the core, I posted question after question: “Who’s making money off of this?” “How do I know where my money is going?” “How do I even know Jake exists?” “What’s wrong with the horse?”

jakeAs Jake’s (literal) deadline inched closer, I struggled with the probability I was about to throw hundreds of dollars at a fake horse. I Googled. I watched YouTube videos about horse slaughter. I was literally sick to my stomach over all that I learned about these horses – many of which are perfectly healthy but just no longer useful to their owners. Little Suzy outgrew the pony that helped raise her. Windmare the race horse wasn’t fast enough to win big money. Bub the workhorse had arthritis after years of working the fields. Often well-intentioned owners give their companions away on Craigslist or sell them at auction, having no idea a kill buyer intends to sell their faithful servant for slaughter.

I learned that American slaughter horses are crammed in to trailers and holding pens in the most inhumane, undignified conditions. These precious beasts that once grazed verdant pastures and gave their hearts to their masters, now defecated all over themselves and the horses packed up against them. Pregnant mares, seriously injured horses, aggressive stallions, all jammed in with little Suzy’s once-prized pony.

I paid Jake’s remaining bail knowing I could be throwing my money away. I just couldn’t let this beautiful creature die like that.

Jan: Tell us about your challenges and your joys in saving these horses.

Tami: We just brought in our second horse (originally Landers but renamed Elvis by my daughter) last week. Where Jake was immediately and obviously deeply grateful and affectionate, Elvis is very spooky and afraid of anything that moves. It’s a challenge helping a horse that, so far, doesn’t want to be helped. Jake is already adopted to a good home. Elvis may take longer. I have faith that we will make a connection and he’ll come around.

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Jan: In the past, you have suffered from severe back pain. Now, you are able to ride horses. What do you attribute that to?

Tami: We actually don’t ride as much as I’d like because of my back. I spend time with them every day, but mostly just to feed, groom and talk to them. Mucking the barn, cleaning out the troughs, and hauling feed and hay also strain my back, but I just made a decision to do it. It’s almost like being a parent. You don’t get to pick the days you feed and nurture kids and animals. They need it every day, so you just decide what’s important and do it.

Jan: You’re in the process of establishing a 501(c)(3) for your horse rescue. Can you tell us about that? What are your long-term goals?

Tami: Yes, I’m in the process of making Swingin’ D Enterprises a 501c3. We’re currently an Oklahoma registered nonprofit corporation. Our goal is to save healthy horses bound for slaughter so they can be nurtured back to health and placed with families that want and need them. Part of our work is the actual rescue of horses from kill lots, which make money off of horses based upon what slaughter houses will pay for meat in other countries; the other part of our work is public awareness. Regular citizens can press their members of Congress to vote for HR113 – The Safe Act, which makes it illegal to transport horses to slaughter in other countries, and keeps it illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption.

Jan: How has this new chapter changed your life?

Tami: I’ve always been the animal rescuer, much to the dismay of anyone who lives with me. But working with horses has given me a whole new appreciation for the power humans have to help or destroy other living creatures, and the duty we have to give them happy, healthy lives. When I look into the eyes of these horses, I imagine how hard they worked to please their masters and how, at some point, they were a gift to someone. Someone likely bought these horses and gave them as an unforgettable gift that lit up someone’s heart for a time. Now they’re forgotten, starving and severely abused. That really resonates with me at this point in my life. I don’t want any creature to feel the emptiness of leaving this world feeling so betrayed.

Jan: Do you have any advice for someone trying to find their passion?

Tami: My first piece of advice would be to find what’s really important in life. For me, it’s not social stature or celebrity or money or material things.

Jan: What’s your greatest life lesson? (So far?)

Tami: My greatest life lesson is that God is never finished with me. He’s always showing me something new, and using me in ways I never imagined.

Jan: Do you have a favorite horse yet, and why, or is that like having a favorite child?

Tami: Bingo! It’s like having a favorite child or favorite dog. Each horse has its own personality, and each brings moments of joy and frustration. Bo is the aloof gelding that thinks he’s a stallion. Aubrey is the pampered princess with attitude. Jake is the precious, grateful old soul. Elvis is the big oaf, afraid of his own shadow.

UPDATE: Earlier this month, Jake was adopted by a teenage girl named Lauren, who had been dreaming of a horse like Jake for years. To see Tami’s Facebook video, click the link below!

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Ftami.marler1%2Fvideos%2F1276378849110711%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Links:

If you would like to donate to Swingin’ D Horse Rescue, click HERE.

Swingin’ D Horse Rescue

Tami Marler

Check out one of my sister’s talents:

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The End

My “professional” bio says I am currently working on the sequel to The Red Kimono, and that’s true–partly. But in the last year, I’ve been drawn to finish a book I started almost three years ago, called Mo’s Shadow.

The book is based on stories that a dear friend of mine used to tell me about life on the lake and his friendship with a little girl who lived across the street. Two years after he began telling me those stories, he took his own life.

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Here’s a brief synopsis:

Eleven-year old Mo Winston is mad at the world. She’s mad at her alcoholic father. She’s mad at her bratty-Mama’s-Boy brother, Shiloh. Most of all, she’s mad at Mama for making her move away from Daddy and all of her friends.

She’s pretty sure she’s the maddest person in the world, that is, until she meets Mr. Dean, the mean old man who lives across the street with Lulu, his vicious-looking Mastiff.

Determined to crack Mr. Dean’s curmudgeonly shell, she embarks on secret snooping expeditions. Her curiosity intensifies when, while peeking through Mr. Dean’s window one day after he took off on his Harley, she sees a picture of a little boy on the mantle.

Of course, she’s plenty afraid of being caught, but her father always told her to face her fears. Day by day, Mo learns Mr. Dean is an old softy. Though, like her father, he drinks too much. He, too, is mad at the world and in Mo’s opinion, for good reason. In ways Mr. Dean will never know, he helps Mo to understand herself as well as her own father.

kirkWith a friend at the lake, life is better and she’s not so angry at the world. Mr. Dean teaches her how to bake an apple pie, how to meditate and best of all, how to sail. He even plays catch with her and bratty brother, Shiloh.

But one day, a sailing accident changes everything when Mo’s mother tells her she cannot spend time with Mr. Dean anymore. This sets off a series of events that lead to Mr. Dean’s death.

This is where to story has remained for the last two days. Here are the last couple of sentences I wrote:

The realization sucked the breath out of her, like a silent scream, though it rang in her ears louder than anything she’d ever heard before.

Mr. Dean is dead.

It’s been hard to get past that last sentence. How do I end the book, when to me, this was the end? And yet, there’s a part of me that knows it can’t end there.

So, I’ve been stuck.

Today, while listening to Pandora, I heard this song by David Gray, a favorite of my friend’s and mine when we dated–more than a dozen years ago:

It takes a lot of love
It takes a lot of love my friend
To keep your heart from freezing
To push until the end
My oh my

And now, I know how to end the story of Mo and Mr. Dean. But, for now, that’s my secret. (Planned release is June 2017.)

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The Literary Citizen Has Arrived!

I first met my friend, author Karen Nelson at Ozarks Writers League. She served as President of OWL following the end of my term in 2013.

Karen is a multi-talented mom, author, photographer, editor, webmaster and entrepreneur, which brings me to my happy announcement that she has published a new online magazine, The Literary Citizen, which is a great resource for writers and readers. Inside, you’ll find lots of information about online events, tips and encouragement.

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I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to introduce you to Karen and her new magazine!

Jan: What inspired you to start an online writing magazine?

dsc_0190-2Karen: As a long-time member of my local writing organization, I had noticed that there wasn’t an effective way for writers to connect with other writing groups or to isolated areas. I was inspired to take action after a presentation on what it meant to be a literary citizen. I realized that I had been enjoying the benefits of my writing community without contributing as much as I could. I had already been an editor for other publications, and two digital magazines, so starting an online magazine for writers seemed the best match for me!

I really hope that The Literary Citizen unites writers and artists across genre and region, and makes them feel they are not alone in their publishing journey. I also want to showcase as many regional and upcoming authors as possible. The publishing field can be intimidating and nameless. Not everyone has access to a regular critique group or conference. I want the magazine to be their partner – their cheerleader – when that moment of loneliness threatens.

I’m excited for anyone who wants to contribute material for future issues – visit TheLiteraryCitizen.com for guidelines. I’m looking for unique, personal commentary on genre, craft, community, and publishing, and it’s a great place to list your writing group, event, book for sale, or editing services.

Jan: What inspired your love for writing?

Karen: I was writing creatively from elementary school age. I remember a book of poems (hand-bound!) that won an award in 5th grade, and a series of writing awards in high school. I was very shy, and it gave me a lot of confidence to have my writing recognized by people I looked up to. One of my favorite projects was a parody newspaper of Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR. It was tremendous fun, and I thought then that pulling disparate pieces of information together to form a more complete picture of an era was the most intriguing thing. Even though I was involved in vocal and instrumental performance, I’ve never forgotten that first thrill of having someone read my work and find it enlightening, or funny, or tragic. Music is an emotional connection with an audience, too…but writing doesn’t give me stage fright!

In the past two decades, I’ve written for the educational and nonfiction market with both books and articles, and I’ve found that it really feeds my love of learning and teaching. I can get lost in a topic for months (thank you, Amazon, for making sure I buy the most obscure research materials in the world), and I love the challenge of organizing information and distilling it into manageable pieces. My past work as a librarian and an educator still finds plenty to do in my writing.

after-ever-after-cover-2Jan: You’ve also written the book, After Ever After. What inspired you to write a book about what happens after the closing to many of our favorite fairy tales?

Karen: I’ve always had a curiosity for secondary characters – those marginal people that have their own unique story, if only someone would tell it. We can’t all be young, gorgeous princesses or rich, handsome princes, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own point of view on events. I began by imagining I was a maid in Sleeping Beauty’s castle at the moment she pricked her finger on that spindle. I’d have been washing dishes, ogling the new yard boy outside the window, chafing against my skirt that was getting too tight around the waist, and bam! I’d wake up a hundred years later with everyone I know dead and gone, and a serious fork imprint on my face.

I loved the original fairy tales, and I revisited Grimm, Perault, and Andersen to jog my memory. Some of my favorites are retelling The Emperor’s New Clothes with the voice of the boy who told the truth, pondering the mother’s thoughts from The Ugly Duckling, and dishing the gossip from The Princess and the Pea…as the Pea.

I also held true to the darker aspects of the original tales. Bluebeard, Rapunzel, Twelve Dancing Princesses – these are not happy endings, and the psychological effects of the characters, had these been true, would have been chilling. That idea also coincides with the reality that someone else may get Happily Ever After, but the rest of us live the After Ever After. Life goes on…prince or no prince.

Jan: In the inaugural issue, you talk about the pros and cons of the digital age. How do you think it has best helped writers, and how do you think it’s hurt us most?

Karen: That’s a loaded question, because sooner or later you have to talk about the staggering amount of dreck that gets self-published. And that leads to hurt feelings. But really, I think the digital age has freed up “ordinary” people to pursue their writing dreams. Just having a blog that your family reads can be immensely rewarding. You can build on your online publishing, create a marketing plan, work on a hybrid project with a small press, be picked up by a big publishing house…the possibilities are endless. Supporting a vibrant digital writing community is the adult continuation of promoting literacy. The real negative to the digital age is the narcissistic molding of social media. We’ve lost the ability to self-censor and make respect and dignity a priority in conversation. Some protest that social media isn’t “writing”, but I disagree. If you are expressing yourself through text, it’s writing. Now we’re reading handwritten love letters and farewell notes from generations past, and it’s obvious to me that casual words matter.

I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t here to judge. I got my master of fine arts in creative nonfiction because I wanted to network with like-minded people and fill in the cracks of my earlier education, but earning that degree made me feel more open to all writing, not less. As a librarian, I watched patrons be equally thrilled with the latest formula mystery, the newest trashy romance, or an in-depth look at the life of Gandhi. I loved that it wasn’t the content, but the connection that made readers keep coming back for more. As long as people are reading SOMETHING, they can always move to a higher intellectual plane. It’s not something I have to worry about. This belief kept me going when my son refused to read anything but Captain Underpants for two years. Now he’s a Mark Twain fan. And if he had never progressed past fart jokes, at least he was entertained by something other than a screen.

Jan: What does literary success look like to you?

Karen: I have a really bad habit of forgetting what I’ve written, so being published is not the penultimate for me. (Don’t get me wrong. I like being published almost as much as I like paychecks.) Like musical performance, for me the most growth and excitement was to be found in the rehearsal, not the production. In a way, the final result is kind of a let down. I love the act of creating, of collaborating, of seeing where an idea takes you. For me, success is not a destination. There is no sign at the end of the road saying, “You Made It! Here You Are! Success!” I believe success is doing the work you love and being engaged with your community – whether it is 2 people or 2,000.

I tell you what I’d like to have, though. I’d like to have a contract to write cozy mystery novels. I have several ideas started. I don’t want a contract for the fame. I want it for the deadlines. I always do my best work when someone else is waiting for it.

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I, too, understand the power of a deadline! Thank you so much for visiting, Karen, and best wishes for much success with The Literary Citizen!

To read the inaugural issue of The Literary Citizen, click HERE.

To submit content, click HERE.

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Facebook’s Lost Opportunity

nohTonight on Facebook, I’ve seen several people post that they’ve had enough of political posts. Some have said they’re sticking to cute animal videos. Some have said they’ll unfriend anyone who posts anything political. Some have said they’ll unfriend anyone who goes ugly or negative. Some have said they’ve had it all together and plan to get off of Facebook.

I’ve felt all of these things, not only since the election, but even before, as we became more and more divisive, and here’s why for me:

  • More and more comments on Facebook lead me to believe people don’t think it’s okay to disagree. If you think differently, you’re WRONG and it seems to give permission to tease or call names.
  • Facebook used to be a place where people shared photographs and commentary about their families, their lives, where they were traveling and even  what they were having for dinner–remember when we complained about that? But it’s been taken over by political commentary, memes and fake news posted by people who apparently think they’re going to “sway” our opinions.
  • I’m interested in what’s going on in our political world, and I have lots of opinions. But I don’t feel comfortable posting an article or opinion about something because I have family and friends on both “sides of the fence” and I don’t want to offend anyone. The thing is, my OPINION should not offend anyone. Yet, it does.
  • Finally, if I can’t be honest without offending, what’s the use of being on Facebook? What started out as a wonderful way to get to know people has devolved into a political battlefield.

So, some say the compromise is to drop the politics. I get that. I enjoy looking at the “lightness” as much as anyone and I often do. But I like knowing what other people think. And then there’s the problem that not everybody will drop the politics, so what we’ll be left with is people on both sides who feel it’s their mission to change our minds.

So, what am I going to do? I, too, have been tempted to leave Facebook all together. But it’s a great way for me to stay in touch with a lot of people at once, so leaving all together thought doesn’t appeal to me.

As best I can, I’m going to stay away from politics on Facebook. I can’t promise how successful I’ll be, but I’m going to try to keep my virtual mouth shut when it comes to politics.

That may feel like a “win” for those that will continue to post their nasty stories, memes and comments, but it’s not. My silence does not mean you’ve changed my mind.

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I’ll continue to post my thoughts on this blog and simply won’t share political posts on Facebook. (I welcome anyone interested to follow my blog so you won’t miss a single political episode.)

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And if you disagree with me? All the better. Leave me a comment. I like nothing more than discussing politics respectfully with someone with whom I disagree. I do it all the time with Steve, my daughter and some of my best friends. It’s how I was brought to the center from the right.

We could all learn something from each other, if we’d only listen. But we don’t seem to be able to do that on Facebook. And what a lost opportunity.

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