Professional organization for Orthodox writers and illustrators of kidlit?

Journal with Daydreams written on the cover sitting on stone by green leaves

With a little more time to think these days, I’ve been pondering my membership in a well-known professional organization for writers and illustrators of children’s books. It’s a good organization. It works hard for its members, and if my books were a slightly different genre, I might take fuller advantage of the benefits of membership.

But I’ve reached a point where I feel comfortable saying out loud that Orthodox is the adjective for my genre. You never know. Life is long and fascinating. But with 8 books either traditionally published or contracted to be so, it’s safe to say this is where I am.

And that professional organization? Doesn’t have much to do with my actual professional writing life. The publishing world is as segregated on Sunday as the rest of American culture, and not only on Sunday.

So with that extra time to think, I’m asking myself: if I started a professional organization for Orthodox writers and illustrators of children’s books, what would that look like? Even the placement of the word “Orthodox” in that sentence is a question – are the writers and illustrators Orthodox, or just the books, or just the writers and illustrators, or just the organization – or all of everything??

This thought is less than an hour old. Still swirling. I’m curious. what do you think about this?

Herd the Bird: A Poem for Ferdinand the Corgi

This is a poem I wrote on behalf of our corgi, Ferdinand. Ferdinand’s views on birds suggest that a corgi does not always learn from experience.

Herd the Bird: A Poem by Ferdinand the Corgi

Herd the bird.
Herd the bird.
I will herd the little bird.

Herd the bird!
Herd the bird!
See me herd the little bird!

Stop it, bird!
Stop it, bird!
You have left my little herd!

Herd the bird.
Herd the bird.
I cannot ever herd the bird.

[To be repeated however many times it takes to get around the block on your stumpy legs, with no wings.]

Ferdinand with a bird he WAS able to herd…

#BlogtownTuesday: An interview with Even Thine Altars

It’s delightful to know that I met today’s #BlogtownTuesday guest IN #Blogtown! When I returned to this form of social writing, I spent hours searching the blogosphere for potential kindred spirits. In one of these searches, I discovered Catherine at Even Thine Altars. I appreciate her writing and her thoughtfulness. I hope you’ll enjoy her answers to my 5 questions.

How did your blog get its name?

My blog got its name from a line in my favorite psalm, Psalm 83 (Septuagint numbering). “How beloved are Thy dwellings, O Lord of hosts…. Even Thine altars, my King and my God.” The line of “even Thine altars” refers to the home-ness of the altar of God, which to me is symbolic of the home we have in the Eucharist as members of the body of Christ on the altar of Christ. It is such a delightful and profoundly moving image for me, and every time I think about it there is new richness in it.

Choosing this line from Psalm 83 is also in reference to my love of the typikon, since Psalm 83 is the first psalm read at the 9th Hour, usually right before Vespers. The placement of this psalm is at the beginning of the last service of the day, and for me it signifies both rest and renewal, since work is done and the new liturgical day will start shortly.

What would you say is the defining characteristic of your blog?

I think the defining characteristic of my blog is Orthodoxy, which permeates everything I write about. I love my faith and it is very present for me in my daily life, especially since I have been at Hellenic College Holy Cross. In the past, I tried to limit the influence that the psalms, quotes from the saints, or Orthodox-related posts had on my blogging, but this is impossible, so I have let it go. I really hope it isn’t overbearing or seems like I’m trying to be an example for other people, because that absolutely is not the intent. I simply hope to document my struggles and thoughts, and I hope they are at least interesting.

What is your favorite thing about blogging? Least favorite?

My favorite thing about blogging is being able to express my thoughts in long-form writing, which no other form of social media allows. I also get to read other people’s well thought out and often moving or enlightening reflections on their own lives and struggles, which I find to be very beautiful.

My least favorite thing about blogging is having to take pictures, which I often forget to do until the last minute.

You’re a member of #Blogtown, a social blogging collaborative. How is blogging social for you?

Blogging is social to me because I get to put writing out into the world. This is very exciting for me, since otherwise the only place that sees my writing is my journal. It also has helped me get over my perfectionist ideals for my writing, since putting something out and connecting with people (especially in #Blogtown!) is so much more important than being “good.”

Sometimes the social aspects of blogging, especially Orthodox blogging but also blogging generally, are difficult for me because I am so young compared to most people in the community, and sometimes it feels as if I am on a childless single lonely little island trying to make the best of it. Despite this, it has been so amazing connecting with other people and seeing their interests and their stories, seeing what beautiful things they create or poems they write or thoughts they have about their most recent read.

Tell us 3 things we’d know about you if we’d grown up together.

1. I was homeschooled in a neo-classical Christian environment. This, of course, has had a big impact on my life. It allowed me to be more focused and creative in what I read and worked on, and it taught me discipline and focus which are great tools for me now.

 2. I adore proper grammar. I would always be the person not-so-silently correcting a person’s grammar. Now this love of the proper placement and use of words has allowed me to study dead languages with a fairly decent degree of ease.

3. I lived in a monastery. After I graduated high school in December 2015, I moved to St. Paisius Monastery in Safford, AZ, for a short time while I was trying to discern a monastic vocation. I didn’t stay very long, and about a year later I started college at HCHC. God only knows what I’m doing with my life now!

Thank you, Catherine!

You can connect with Catherine at Even Thine Altars. See you in #Blogtown!

#MakersMonday: Reta Evens Simons

Today’s maker has been a storied presence in my life since before my memory began. She entered the world as a wheat-farmer’s daughter on the Canadian prairie, and she came south to Pennsylvania on the smallest of chances – her father said she could go to school in America if it rained at harvest time. Many years later, she wrote the story of her life, naming it for that rain.

My grandmother’s expressive face on the cover of her memoir.

After the rain, after a long journey by train and years of schooling and servanthood in America, she married my grandfather Keneth. My father was their first child.

I remember a photo of Reta on my grandfather’s desk. It was probably taken in her 40s or 50s, on a visit to her brothers who were still on the farm in Alberta. In the photo, she’s standing near the grain elevator, wearing a cotton blouse and skirt. Perhaps she held a hat, or a purse, but what I remember about the photo is her hands. They looked just like my father’s hands, larger than I expected, veined, strong and capable. Reta could do almost anything with those hands.

She taught herself patternless dressmaking. My parents have a beautiful photograph of her wearing a blue evening gown, exquisitely tailored, with a blue satin train, that she designed and sewed. Dad told us stories of a dress she dyed, carefully shading the color from a deep violet at the hem that faded by degrees until it was so pale it was almost white at the top. Imagine that shading process – what a good eye she had, and a steady hand.

Reta taught herself to paint, too. Everyone in the family has at least one of her oil paintings, or a water color. Here is mine.

We also have things Reta embroidered. I have two cushions with birds embroidered on them – currently packed away because the corgi does not share my respect for heirloom embroidery. Another piece she embroidered hung on the wall in my parents’ house. The quote, as it turns out, is originally attributed to a Quaker missionary. I saw it on our wall, in her graceful stitching, every day of my life. That made it hers.

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Etienne de Grellet, QUAKER MISSIONARY

Farm girl that she was, Reta also had a way with little animals, and she raised more than one abandoned baby squirrel. Just this year, an aunt sent me an old home-movie clip, with no sound, of my grandmother playing with one of these babies. It struck me, watching it, that it’s the only time I’ve seen her alive, in motion, more like the person Dad remembered with such affection. Reta died of cancer just a few months after I was born.

But of all the things she made, my father was the best. Reta raised a good man, brilliant, kind, appreciative. Like her, he strove to do all the good he could. He never forgot he could live each day only once.

At Reta’s graveside, the presiding minister read the parable of the talents, ending with “Well done, good and faithful servant.” God bless her, entering into the joy of her Lord.

#Blogtown: Letters from the Homefront

Dear Friends,

Why does this blog post begin like a letter? I’ll tell you.

My friend Anna at The Brown Dress Project is drawing on a lifetime of history-reading for strength and motivation in the present time. I love her assessment of what qualities are needed.

 Thrift, ingenuity, service, hard work, gratitude for daily bread, commitment to neighborliness were all traits which brought families through. Those times are no longer the faded memories of grandparents – they are upon us now.

Anna the Librarian/Historian

In today’s open letter on her blog, Anna’s suggesting that our #blogtown community stick together through this hard time by writing letters to each other. Noting that the front lines for this “world war” run squarely through the home of each person, Anna hearkens back to the days when the efforts of those at home provided the strength and resources for those far away on the more obvious battlefields. That’s why she’s calling for Letters from the Homefront.

If you have a blog, welcome! You’re automatically a neighbor in the #blogtown community. Your well-being matters. The funny moments, frantic boredom, quiet inspiration, fabulous nap, or dogged determination that got you through the day are worth sharing with all of us, your virtual neighbors.

It’s a quiet day at my house. I’m pondering the mix of worry and relief this situation has brought to us. I meant to bake bread today, but instead I played games with my kiddo and took a gray-day walk, looking for leaf buds and early flowers. I even curled up on the couch with the dog and stared out the window at the intricacy of tree branches.

This week has been fiercely busy. I work for an internet company, so working at home isn’t a change. But the sudden influx of EVERYONE ON THE PLANET onto the internet, all hoping to help, all live-streaming, all sharing tips, all asking if this or that is going to happen and when, seemed to make all my days twice as crowded.

I love the surge of helpfulness, but I also believe that we humans aren’t capable of sustaining this level of intensity. Once the novelty of this situation wears off, we will either turn on each other or relax into this new way of being and go back to binge-watching Netflix or reading real, tangible, papery-scented printed books. We’ll walk around the block, and around again. We’ll bake things. Our supply chain will recover from our panic, and there won’t be as much to say about toilet paper any more. But I don’t think normal life will come back for a few months.

I’m at peace for now. Mostly. And exchanging letters with all of you here in this cozy internet community will be something I continue to enjoy.

God bless and keep you,

Melinda

#LettersfromtheHomefront

Robert Louis Stevenson: The Swing

This summer, my mother let me bring home a collection of old books that were my childhood favorites. Whenever I read them, I hear the words in her voice, and the spirit of many long-lost summer afternoons, piled around her on the couch with my little siblings, rises around me. I love that.

One I brought home is a well-worn copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. It appears to have been printed in 1932, so it was already old in my little-girlhood.

On a side note, I learned in adulthood that RLS is related to another favorite author of mine, D. E. Stevenson, who mentions him in several of her books. Her characters quote him sometimes, and his poems find their way into the subtext.

What I love about this poem is how well the rhythm of the verses mimics that of the activity they describe. They swing up into the sky, hang there for the tiniest fraction of a second, and swing back again. Your muscle memory will quickly join your voice, and you will find yourself reading the poem in your chair as if you were reading it on the swing. Up in the air and down!

The Swing

How do you like to go up in a swing,

Up in the air so blue?

Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing

Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,

Till I can see so wide,

Rivers and trees and cattle and all

Over the countryside–

Till I look down on the garden green,

Down on the roof so brown–

Up in the air I go flying again,

Up in the air and down!

Robert Louis Stevenson

This poem must have been a favorite of Stevenson’s or his reading public, because both the cover of the book (above) and the frontispiece (below) are illustrated with a little girl on a swing, and The Swing is the first poem in the book!

I especially like this poem at a time when we are all, more or less, living inside the garden wall. Like the child on the swing, we may catch glimpses of the outer world, only to drop again behind the wall. But in this poem at least, there’s a garden within that wall, and the child on the swing is both excited by the wider vista and content to return to the confines of home.

#BlogtownTuesday: Interview with Cynthia June Long

Today’s #BlogtownTuesday guest is one of the original members of this virtual neighborhood. Cynthia participated in #bloginstead, and we’ve known each other online for years now. I’ve always been fascinated by her “Faerie Librarian” designator, so this interview ought to be interesting! As always, I’m asking 5 questions. Here are Cynthia’s answers.

How did Your blog gets its name?

There’s already a different “Cynthia Long” who writes for the National Education Association; and at least one other creative writing/poet/songwriting Cynthia Long and/or Cynthia J. Long. So I use my middle name to distinguish myself from those others.

My tagline is more descriptive: Faith, Myth, Folklore, Literature | Faerie Librarian. By profession, in my “day job,” I’m a librarian. For fun I read widely in folklore, the fantasy genre, and contemporary literature about faeries. That makes me the Faerie Librarian.

What would you say is the defining characteristic of your blog?

The intersections between faith, myth & folklore. Christian references in folklore. My two favorite examples are “Priest Communes Good Werewolves” from the 12th Century and “The Priest’s Supper,” a~18th or 19th Century Irish tale in which a parishioner relates to his priest a question from the fairies: Will the faeries receive eternal salvation? I shared “The Priest’s Supper” in my presentation at Doxacon 2017; you can listen to it here, starting around minute 11-12:12.

Faerie folklore is my specialty, but I’ve branched out on my blog to occasionally include book reviews of non-faerie books and I sometimes also discuss other literary or personal topics. As a former children’s librarian, I also review select children’s books.

What is your favorite thing about blogging? Least Favorite?

Favorite: Faith-and-Folklore is a niche topic, but it’s my niche. I love it. I could talk (or write) about it all day.

Least favorite: the time required to produce high-quality blog content, and continuing to do so, preferably on a regular schedule, which I haven’t quite been able to manage. Yes, I’m a perfectionist, but let’s face it: good writing requires re-writing. Editing. Formatting. I’ve been disappointed in the posts I’ve thrown up in a rush. Even when offering an opinion, I want to present my best work. And then I’ll go find engaging photos to accompany it. My quest for “the best” accompanying image can sometimes get carried away.

You’re a member of #Blogtown, a social blogging collaborative. How is blogging social for you?

We know the old koan: If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? Is a writer a writer without a reader?

In college, my best friends were the folks who stayed up late debating philosophy and discussing the meaning of the universe. A blog re-creates in written format all those late-night obscure, esoteric conversations. (The best kind of conversations, I might add!) The increased deliberate interactivity of #Blogtown turns a blog post from a soliloquy into a conversation.

Tell us 3 things we’d know about you if we’d grown up together.

  • I have two older sisters; I’m the youngest of three girls. We grew up in “The Brady Bunch” era. Our hair color was lighter as children; I was a blonde or ‘dirty-blonde’ for my first four or five years. (Please don’t call me “Cindy.”)
  • I was a Girl Scout. I loved Girl Scouting. I loved camping. The smell of crisp autumn leaves gets me nostalgic every fall.
  • As the youngest child, I suffered from not-old-enough-yet syndrome.  The proudest moment of my first 4 years was when I was the Star of Bethlehem in the church Christmas pageant.  I wasn’t old enough to join the heavenly choir of angels like my sisters and the other cool big kids, but for once, I got the better deal. I was the Star of Bethlehem.

Thank you, Cynthia!

You can connect with Cynthia at Cynthia June Long. See you in #Blogtown!

#MakersMonday: An interview with Kristina Tartara

I’m more than usually excited about this #MondayMakers interview because Kristina Tartara is the illustrator for St Ia Rides a Leaf, the board book we just contracted with St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press! Kristina and I met at a conference, bonded over our shared love of guinea pigs (because all right-thinking people love these little creatures), and we are truly enjoying our first professional collaboration. Kristina works hard. She’s always learning, always polishing her work, always growing in her art. I respect that. As always on #MakersMonday, I’m asking 5 questions. Here’s Kristina, with her answers!

Tell us about your work. What do you create?

I am a children’s book author, illustrator, and graphic designer. In the Orthodox world, I authored two board books (What Do You See at Liturgy & What Can I Do at Divine Liturgy) as well as a matching game (My Orthodox Matching Game). The illustrations were photographs because I wanted children to see other kids participating in the Divine Liturgy. If children are able to practice how to do things at home, then they will be better able to participate at church. The books also show things that they would see around the church to help them learn church vocabulary and spark interest in the world around them. In the near future, I’m hoping to create other Orthodox things to sell on my Etsy shop, such as gifts and greeting cards with my illustrations. I have a blog where I post activities for young children that have an Orthodox lesson. 

In the secular world, I’ve illustrated four books that were authored by someone else. These will be published in the late spring/early summer. I’m also scheduled to illustrate 2 Orthodox books this year, so keep an eye out for those.

How did you learn to do this kind of work?

Ever since I was in elementary school, I’ve wanted to write and illustrate children’s books! When I went to college, I ended up studying early childhood education, even though I always wanted to write and illustrate. That might seem backwards to some people, but having training in education helps me understand how to support readers through the illustrations and text. I’m so glad I did it. 

In the past, I would research publishing, and I thought I would never be able to do it. Everything seemed too difficult and too competitive. Then life took a turn I didn’t expect. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that left me struggling to use my hands, and my brain was a mess. As part of my recovery, I read that it helps to learn something new to retrain the brain. I took a colored pencil class at a local art studio, and I haven’t stopped creating since then. Getting sick was the most difficult thing I’ve been through, but it motivated me to do what makes me feel fulfilled – draw. Be grateful for the struggles you are faced with and find ways to use them to glorify God. We only live once, so go for it. Do what you always wanted to do even if you might fail or it seems difficult. 

What do you find satisfying about being a “maker”?

In every job I’ve had, all I could think about was creating. I love being able to say – I have to work which means I’m drawing all day. I want to create things that have a positive message and help kids learn about the world around them. 

What’s your favorite memory associated with practicing your craft?

My favorite memory is probably with my grandma. She’d buy crafts and have them waiting for me when I visited. She also had a bunch of DIY craft magazines from the 50s that showed how to upcycle used items into something else. I loved looking at them and trying to make things out of nothing. She knew I loved crafts and always encouraged me to be creative. 

Share a photo of a favorite piece, and tell us the story that goes with it.

[Melinda’s note: Kristina gave me several pieces to choose from, and I did – I chose all of them!]

Here is some art from my colored pencil class. This one is actually graphite. It is of my Papou. My grandparents suffered a lot during WWII in Greece, yet they never stopped praying and believing in God. Their example is what carried me through my illness. 


And here is one of St. Basil’s in Russia. It is such a beautiful church and maybe one day I will get to see it in person. 🙂 

The jaguar is looking to the future with hope in his eyes. There’s always hope even when you think you’re lost. 

Thank you, Kristina!

You can see more of Kristina’s art, including her adorable illustrations for children, by viewing her portfolio HERE.

I’ll be sharing Kristina’s work as the illustrations for St. Ia Rides a Leaf develop. She’s crafting the storyboard this week, and I can’t wait to see it!

Funny memory: A cow on the Oregon Trail

What a coincidence! I wrote this down four years ago and ran across it again this morning. Pretty sure many of us are feeling like this cow on the Oregon Trail!

Here’s my 9-year-old, discussing the perils of the Oregon Trail journey at dinner.
“Say this is a covered wagon.” (Picks up piece of biscuit and sets it on top of second piece of biscuit) “And this is the raft it’s floating on, on the river.”
Aligns a broccoli floweret with one end of the biscuit wagon-raft.
“This is the cow pulling it.”
Begins pulling the broccoli. “Mooooooooooooooooo.” (In a deep, cow voice.)
Pulls broccoli cow to edge of plate. Knocks it over the edge. “Good-bye cow.” (Grimace)
[Pause, in which the broccoli cow plops onto the “States of the US” placemat under the plate-river.]
“Hey” (Speaking once more in the deep cow voice) “I’m in Montana.”

My wish for you today is that if you do fall off the plate, you land somewhere lovely, like Montana!