Coming Home… From Home

5 days ago I returned home from a two-week stay in London. Or as I like to call it… HOME.

I have been wishing and bleating about how I have wanted to go there my entire life. Since I was probably about 5 or 6 years old I have fancied the UK. My first hero’s were the Spice Girls and Princess Diana… and you know how that ended.

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On the 27th I flew from Seattle-> Las Vegas-> London. By the time I landed, I had to get myself to the flat I was renting, meet my host, and prepare myself mentally for what I was about to do next.

9F638315-A4C6-4666-ADAE-F4E11531739CHonestly, I didn’t think I was going to be able to pull this off and especially not after a 15-hour journey. But, it was “For Book’s Sake”, which was a group I really resonated with so I needed to make this happen.

I scrubbed my face, brushed my teeth, changed clothes, and put on new makeup with metallic heart shaped freckles (from Mr. Kate’s Beauty Mark Collection). I jetted out the door, with a phone battery on 20%, to head off to Shoreditch… Sure that I was going to fall at some point or lose every inch of my lunch.

As I got closer to the event I found myself being overcome by the mundane life in the streets surrounding me. Forcing myself not to be overcome with emotions: I was failing miserably. I was becoming so overwhelmed and I was also worried I was about to get lost as my iPhone’s battery began to squeak out its last few percentages of dreadful red.

I looked up just in time to see the name of the street I was looking for, scrawled out on a worn placard, up above the edge of an old building just across the street. When I looked back down my phone was dead, so I crossed the street and hoped that Leonard street wasn’t too long and that if I just kept walking I would eventually end up where I needed to be.

Through gritted teeth, tired legs, and heavy eyes, I made it to ‘The Book Club” In Shoreditch. I walked down the staircase into the basement and met with the wonderful event organizer, Paul, and chatted with him about the flight to the UK from the US and the impending sense of doom that was filling up my insides like cement.

I let him know of the situation I was undergoing.

That I was supposed to be reading my poetry in about 45 minutes but all my poetry was locked away neatly on my iPhone. My dead iPhone.

He lent me his charging brick and as it began to finally come back to life I could hear the clicking of two sets of shoes coming down the same staircase I had just made my way down. I stood behind the DJ table… mostly wondering if I should move.I knew the voice I was hearing.

I knew the voice I was hearing.

I knew it because it was like mother’s milk to me. Her voice has been what has kept me reading, re-writing, and believing in extreme impossibilities for the last handful of years. Her small cheery laugh crackled through the passageway and into the performance hall. It crackled in me as well. I walked forward, trying not to leap as she walked in.

“Laura?”

“Yes? Oh My God! You’re here! When I saw your name on the bill I wasn’t sure it was you since you lived so far away! Anna Jean, right?”

One could say I died right then and there. that it took the three bottles of cider that was free from Paul to revive me, but even that would be wrong.

We talked for a bit longer about different things before my friends Hana and Nadine showed up. They were my tethers to make sure I didn’t loose it since I hadn’t performed a lick of my poetry in 12 years. Having them there meant more than I can ever express.

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When I got up to perform the two poems from my next poetry collection due out next year (This Garden – 2018) I had only planned on performing one. My cousin sat in the audience and It frightened me to think she might share the videos of this performance with my family. But, before I went on stage I had swizzled down 1 & 1/2 bottles of strawberry lime cider and decided I would let the distilled courage speak for me; by performing the 2nd piece. Despite my cousin being in the audience.

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Before I had gone up I had given Laura Dockrill a gift bag full of little things. A painting I had made for her release, a few pins for her denim jacket, and a handmade Darcy Burdock doll that left her speechless. We chatted ever so briefly about how I wasn’t going to be doing the piece I had practiced because my cousin was going to be there and I feared my families critical critique and judgment. She shared with me that she never showed her work to judgmental and critical people. So when she said that it was a bummer she didn’t get to hear the poem I had worked on, especially because it was for that night, I let that sit inside me.

When I finished the 1st poem, the replacement poem, I listened to the applause, chuckled and then scrolled to the original piece on my phone. I only looked to Laura. Then opened my mouth to read what I feared most.

“Loving this

Is hard for people

but it’s even harder

to love it myself …”

I started in and looked up in-between bits to wide expressions, open mouths, and bums on the edges of seats.

When I finished they roared, some even stood up. I bowed slightly and ran off the stage.

My cousin engulfed me in a huge hug, wrapping her arms around me, putting her forehead against mine, and telling me how much she was inspired by me and how she hopes I never hide who I am.

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But then there was Laura, who I wish one day could just be my mentor, or a friend, or even an equal in the writing world. She looked at me, gave me a huge hug, then put one hand on top of mine and said: “Was that last one the piece you weren’t going to do?”  When I nodded she beamed. “I’m so glad you did. You were amazing! That was fucking fantastic!”

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Later she would ask me if was still with the person I talked about loving in my first poem. “No, but she taught me I was capable of loving again, so to me, that was more important.”

She nodded, understandingly, and set off to talk with her PR manager and her friend Buzz.

In about an hours time we had gone through a series of wonderful poets and storytellers. Each more moving than the last.

Then Laura got up and spoke about Aurabel, and read a glimmering jewel of a section from Big Bones, her next book due out in 2018. I was hooked. It was like our pieces had perfectly mimicked each other’s themes. Following the art of loving while feeling trapped by the world around you and the feeling of loving food, even though you are being told not to love yourself.

(Aurabel, for those not familiar with Laura’s book Lorali, is a sequel to her first Young Adult book following the tumultuous love between a mermaid and teenage boy. In this one, they are back, though everything is shifted and the focus lies on Aurabel and the life she lives. It starts in an underwater city named Tippi, which to me… very closely reminds me of Brixton, where I stayed in London. You can feel a lot of London in the book as well as a whole slew of other themes. Which I won’t giveaway… You’ll just have to go buy it yourself.)

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That night I will never truly forget. Ever. I have two signed books to remind me that the whole thing actually DID happen. That I flew halfway around the world to perform at a “That’s What She Said!” event and fell in love with the city and the people.

I spent the next to weeks writing, crying, drawing, missing a couple concerts: yes, but also finding myself in the muddy waters of the Thames.

I cried getting on to the plane because I didn’t want to leave. It felt to much like home.. that i didn’t want to return to my actual home.

Oi Oi. Londonnnnn! You’ve been toooo good. I’m looking forward to seeing you in March!

And as a thank you… here. Have a sketch from my flat’s window.

(ooooh, PS. I sold out of all my poetry books while I was over there! Boom Shakalakka!)IMG_1896

Lets take a quick recap, shall we?

This has been an eventful last few months in my life. While normal everyday stuff with my day job hasn’t changed much, writing has ultimately been feeding my creative soul as everything else has been going topsy-turvy.

The end of March was the 1 year anniversary of Caspian the Brave! and I couldn’t be happier with what it has accomplished! It has made me so happy and has touched a fortuitous amount of happy readers. I have heard back from tons of families! Each correspondence is a positive message about how it is changing the outlook of so many that are reading it and how they deal with anxiety and being brave. I can’t believe that a story I wrote just for me is getting so much love. I am still in awe! I was sent this video of Dalton reading my book for the first time just last week. Talk about tears?! I am so proud of you Dalton! Keep up the great reading!

 

In April I sent off my first agent submission and gritted my teeth. I still haven’t heard back, which I am not mad about, but the fact that I finally buckled down and sent it meant that I am finally putting a value on my work and not looking at myself as a fraud. I am a writer. I am an Author. I am an Illustrator. If I want to continue to motivate people to follow their dreams I need to step up and fight for mine. So I submitted and I am not going to harpoon my future by saying it will be the only submission I send in, I will be putting myself out there for much more in the next few months.

Screenshot+2017-05-20+02.59.40April also saw the loss of my dog, Ricky, and while this is still hard for my to deal with we welcomed a new kind soul into our lives by the name of Ducky. He is a ball of energy and the walks and playtime have me exploring more creeks and ball fields than my old play pal was able to do with his arthritis and loss of sight. It’s good to have a friend along for exploring and I am sure it will start to show in my artwork.

Screenshot+2017-05-20+03.17.00Speaking of artwork. On the first of May, I began ramping up my artwork. I have dedicated myself to working on drawing at least once a day. even if its only for 5 minutes or finishing off a painting or drawing from the day before. I am pushing myself to maintain my focus so my style improves and becomes stronger.

img_3022To put it into further perspective 3 of my illustrations were also chosen for a Gallery exhibit for September-January 2018. I am ecstatic to be chosen and to be one of the featured artists! bThey will be on exhibit at the University House – Issaquah and If anybody wants more information I can drum it up for you!

book reading nervsMay also brought along a huge goal that I didn’t think I would ever actually do because of my stage fright. I did my FIRST book reading at our local Half Price Books! Little Ol’ me! I had a petite crowd but everyone in the crowd bought the book. Including one that wasn’t able to make it and a Former President! (Thank you, Sir! It was a pleasure meeting you Jimmy! x) It was an event I didn’t think I would be able to do but I was so happy I was able to! I look forward to doing more in the future!

Screenshot+2017-05-20+02.56.45Then a couple weeks ago I was drawing, while eating a yummo Margarita Cupcake from Cupcake Royale in West Seattle, and decided to sketch out a quick little Darcy Burdock for Laura Dockrill.

Screenshot+2017-05-20+02.24.03She is one of my favorite Authors and Illustrators and about an hour later I saw her Instagram notification and went completely un-audible for the next several hours. We’re talking tears, squeaky, high pitched noises only dogs could hear… while sobbing over the last few dregs of Stumptown coffee I had left. Still my absolute highlight of May!

Screenshot+2017-05-20+02.58.29Then just last night I was able to meet and chat with the wonderful Drew Daywalt! He is the wonderful Author behind “The Day the Crayons Quit”, “The Day the Crayons Came Home”, and “The LEGEND fo ROCK PAPER SCISSORS” Talk about shy Fan-Girling! I had to push myself to talk since I am not normally one to ask a bunch of questions or talk to people I haven’t met via someone else. But it was lovely to get to know somebody who has been through the trenches and could offer me a little feedback. I asked him what he wished he would have done starting out… his only answer? “I wish I would have started sooner!” Affirmative! I’m with you on that! Thank you also to Beth, Susan, and Suzanne! It was great talking books with you!

Screenshot+2017-05-20+02.55.01As you can see the road has been crazy! I am working on another book right now and getting color pallets together on my drafts. I can’t stop writing! I find myself telling Siri to take down notes of book ideas even while I’m driving! I have close to 18 books in the works… seriously. I can’t stop. This year is going to be fun!

Next month I head to London for almost two weeks. I am looking forward to it! And yes, I am bringing my sketchbook. I’ll be doing artwork and talking and meeting with friends while I am there. I’ll be sitting down with a few people eagerly waiting to hear how to get started in the world of Writing and Illustrating. I love being a rock for new people to latch onto so I can help motivate them to succeed. This trip will be far more than business and relaxing. It is a chance to once again step out of my comfort zone and try something new. I can’t wait! honestly! It will be on a tight budget, because “starving artist” is definitely rooted in the truth, but inspiration comes from exploration and I will have no numeric limits on my creativity. I hate numbers.

Speaking of numbers. My birthday is the 25th of May and I can’t believe I am turning 29! So from this day forward, I refuse to grow up. Take the 2 away from 9 and I will perpetually be a gifted 7-year-old for now on. That’s how this works, right? if It’s not… Welcome to the new standard of age measurement.

 

That Little Voice is Whispering…

At the beginning of the month I was blessed beyond belief to be able to attend the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Western Washington meeting.

I can’t tell you how much winning this membership has mean to me and I’ve only been to one meeting. But it has me free styling my writing and so many of books have begun taking on a whole new life. I have been offered to start a lecture series soon and am continuing to get my portfolio ready to send to agents. My work is becoming my passion.

It’s what drives me from the moment I wake up and what keeps me at my second job. 

I have a long list of stories I’m writing. Some are children’s books, some early readers, poetry, and even the beginnings of a novel in the works.

To say I have been busy is an understatement, but I wouldn’t change it.

I have started to push myself to either write for ten minutes before bed, or when I wake up. It’s in those moments where my mind is just foggy enough not to care about perfect spelling and flawed grammar. I can get out the story, or at least a upscaled outline.

This is something I think we need to remember: we don’t grow unless we are practicing and improving. Don’t polish the same stone hoping to make it better and better. All you are doing is rubbing off the edgy bits that make it unique. Refine it, but keep your character. That’s where your voice lies. Your writing voice is your own, and only you can tell it like you can. We each come from different backgrounds and different experiences, so we all have different perspectives. Use it when writing… even if you feel it’s already been done! It’s your story, from your point of view, and that’s what’s valuable.

 

So looking back at this rough and tumble month I see a lot of things going on. A lot of scenery missed while doing the big bits of being an adult, but these are experiences I can use for my writing one day so I am willing to push through them and listen to my inner voice.

My inner voice is saying to keep writing and dream bigger, and I hope you will as well.

Stagnation

“I talk a big game
Even though I don’t have one
In fact I’m normally shy and reserved
I’m the quietest
Of all my friends
Unless a bottle of wine is served
I say sorry flippantly
Apologize for breathing
And I’m sorry if you find me annoying
By how much tea you see me steeping”

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Stagnation and self doubt may be the cruelest critic we have against personal growth. It prohibits you from letting your work flow like it normally does. The doubt we feel lingers in the back of your mind saying we are not who we are and that we are a fraud.

You are not alone. I deal with it constantly. (Sometimes it takes a rest to get over the feeling, sometimes a bottle of wine and some well chosen friends.)

I am not a master of my craft but merely someone wanting to find my own way in it while taking small cues from others. I don’t want to be the person that emulates another artist. I want to be the artist that people look up too and want a smidgen of the same thing I have been able to accomplish. But I don’t want them to copy my path. I want them to find their own.

It’s easier to get lost if you are filing your hopes and dreams in somebodies else’s. If theirs is on top of the world, you’re lifted up, but if theirs tanks you have an excuse. If it’s your goals, and your experiences, the only person you can blame for your inadiquicies is yourself. But you also have to decide if you will continue letting yourself hold you back with doubt or if you will let yourself free fall into something great. I took that leap, and although I’m not perfect, I’m learning more than I ever thought I would. I’m learning because I want to learn, though, I don’t want to be stagnant.

Stagnation can be the ultimate betrayer in this all. If you are stagnant when you free fall, you could just wind up hurting your overall mission even more. Make some waves. Try new things. Make a goal. Then free fall into it. If you don’t have your own experiences to fall on when you don’t make it you will learn nothing except that; that didn’t go the way you wanted and you might not do it again. Fear is the opposite of creativity. Open yourself up to the possibility of failing, but learning from each mistake. You may come out with your greatest masterpiece.

Growth Mindset

“You can only become great at something you are willing to sacrifice for.”

– Dr. Maya Angelou

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I have read Maya’s words hundreds of times… Practically engrained I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings into every heartbeat. Now more than ever her many lessons echo within me. I had a handful of people that influenced how I lived my life.

The kindness of Princess Diana, the compassion of Mother Teresa, the unapologetic attitude of Dolly Parton, the playfulness of Felicia Bond, the poetic form of Shel Silverstein, and the heart of Maya Angelou.I am an amalgamation of more than one of these amazing individuals.

I am the byproduct of teaching myself how to love in the face of hatred, to breathe when I can’t find my lungs for screaming, and to constantly be looking for the bright side because you can get lost in the dark to easily.

The way we grow up is important. We go through a million trials to end up in the second we are in with only a billion more to experience. Why waste those moments and trials feeding something that does nothing for your soul? Water the passions that drive you. Sacrifice your time and shed light on the garden lying dormant. You never know what your future will be but every act in passion is a prequel to your greatest masterpiece. You don’t have to decide what that will be right now, time will do that for you, your only job is to live a full life and if you are going to sacrifice your time for anything: make it worth your while.

I am planting myself a new garden. Nurturing my forgotten roots. If I want something done right, and I don’t see it happening, I’m putting in the effort and doing it myself. I may be a stubborn mule about it but the fact remains: If you want something done, you have to put in the work. You have to sacrifice.

 

I’ve been thinkin, I’ve been thinkin’…

I’ve had this blog post weaving through my brain for a while… though now I feel I can finally put this process into action.

Caspian Brown is my little baby of a mouse character. He was the first real character I gave a voice to and was the ‘Star’ of my first picture book. He symbolizes my own journey with learning to be brave and pushing through college, fighting the stereotypes from high school, finally breaking down my fears while accepting who I am, and that asking for help when it gets too tough IS okay.

For me, Caspian is my Max.

But, I am ready to let him go out into the world.

I am ready to start looking for an agent, to finally sit down and make some moves with my writing and illustrating career, even if it means letting go of Caspian.

I’ll still be writing stories for him, and still drawing him if who ever I find thinks my drawings are of merit. At the same time I am willing and understand if they like my writing and don’t like my illustrations. Or vice versa.

I guess this is the point at which I say I am growing up. That I am willing to throw my hand into somebody else’s and ask for help. I am getting far to overwhelmed with trying to champion 5 different aspects of this journey and I am extremely excited to find somebody willing to get my voice out there.

 

 

New Book – New Goals

Last year I set out to write my first picture book. I sat down, wrote out the manuscript, brought it to my friend Teresa, and within a few short weeks I was illustrating my first book and starting Caspian Press.

This year I am still working with Caspian Press to encourage authors and illustrators to shake the dust off their pencils and dive in.

Which has also encouraged me to do something I didn’t think I would do. Write a book of poetry.

I’ve always loved poetry, and have been writing it since I was a young girl, but I never thought I would have my name on a collection of my own!

I sat clicking through some old notepad writings on my phone one night and stumbled upon a kooky letter I wrote from the perspective of a Copic marker to a piece of Vellum Bristol paper. I remembered exactly why I had written it.

  1. To see if I could – I do this to myself often. I don’t believe I can do it till it’s done.
  2. It would be fun – It was fun! I wrote it from my own perspective, as a Copic marker. Odd, yes, but I loved the challenge and it let me use a different voice.
  3. I once had a teacher tell me a poem could not be about a lamp – Okay, this is where it gets a bit weird. I had a teacher ask me in high school what poetry was. I raised my hand and waited to answer. When she called on me I softly said “Poetry is the world around you. It could be about a lamp, or leaves, it doesn’t matter. It is how your mind interprets the world around you… written into prose.” She quickly shot me down with a “Poetry can’t be about a lamp, next person!” I was crushed, and mortified. At the time I was a very quiet student. I kept my head down when it came to the teachers, so I didn’t argue it, even though I was argueing with myself about it.

Fastforward 10 years: I found myself still arguing it. I had wrote this poem out because I want to prove that poems could be about something as mundane as a marker or a lamp. And so I did! I let it sit on my phone for 3 years before I came back to it.

When I finally opened up the notepad it struck me. I kept this hidden because I didn’t think it was a real poem. Because a person told me I was wrong about what I believed was true. I couldn’t let this go. I decided to show myself this wasn’t a one hit wonder and started writing other poems. Some were crumpled up and never seen again, though most made it out of my notebook and into the hands of my two wonderful editors.

They gobbled it up every time I showed them and kept asking for more. My friends would text me and ask if I wrote anymore of them. They were just as enamored with the idea as I was with writing them.

Inanimate LOVE was born!

In the end I wrote 28 poems, an ode to my age in a way, and left ‘Lamp to Lamp Shade” as the very last one. And yes: I wanted that to be two words.

Today is the first day the book is out for purchase. After the new year it will be available for Limited Time purchase on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Book Depository, and anywhere else you buy your books online. It will also be available for purchase on Ingram.

Thank you to Teresa Butler & Brittany Fader for being my wonderfully supportive editors. I couldn’t have done it without you. I know you put up with toooooo many but‘s to count and I appreciate your scolding over it. I have a problem. I can change. If I have too… I guess. Haha.

 

Go pick up my second book! It’s available now!

http://www.lulu.com/shop/anna-nelson/inanimate-love/hardcover/product-22982871.html