Sunday, December 24, 2017

"If we don't do it, who else can?" The Courage of Charles Schulz

As this year comes to a close I had wanted to write a holiday blog post about one of my favorite Christmas specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas. I have been busy working on The Web and scheduling book signings left and right, and my blog has been neglected indeed. I planned on writing this post before today, however things got delayed when I suffered an injury wrapping Christmas presents.
Information for this blog post was gathered from
"A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition"
by Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez

What? You might ask. How can you injure yourself wrapping presents? Well, believe me, you can if your back is forty-something years old and you are doing a lot of leaning over as you cut, tape and furiously wrap each gift, and then you turn and bend at the waist to reach the next present. You can suffer a painful spasm that wreaks havoc on your entire lower back and sends you to the urgent care for muscle relaxers, steroids and painkillers.

It happens. And it happened to me.

That was a few days ago but now I am much better and since it’s still before Christmas, I will proceed with the blog post that explains why we all need a little bit of Charles Schulz’ courage inside of us.

In 1965 Charles Schulz was notified that Coca-Cola was interested in sponsoring a thirty minute Christmas special featuring his Peanuts characters, and that he needed to come up with the outline for a script in five days. Schulz calmly rose to the challenge. He shared with his producer, Lee Mendelson, his ideas, saying, “If it’s to be a Christmas special, I certainly want to deal with the true meaning of Christmas.” His outline was sent to Coca Cola, who bought it and gave him six months to produce his special—a very short time considering the task at hand. But Charles Schulz – or Sparky, as his friends called him – rolled up his sleeves and got to work, and did not back down when a few of his ideas were challenged because they went against the popular opinion of the times.

Number One: Sparky refused to use laugh tracks (dubbed in laughter to signal to the audience when a joke was told). Shows like The Flinstones and The Jetsons had built in laugh tracks, but when Mendelson suggested using one to Sparky he said, “Absolutely not.” And that was the end of that.

Number Two: Charles Schulz insisted on using children to voice the parts, instead of using adult actors pretending to be kids. Some of the children who were cast were even too young to read and had to have their lines fed to them. I found that seven-year-old Christopher Shea was the young actor cast to voice Linus, and this is where my research into this blog post took a bit of a turn.

I could not escape the fact that the picture of Christopher Shea had an uncanny resemblance to the boy from "The Poseidon Adventure" (one of several disaster movies of the 1970’s that made me never want to set foot onto a cruise ship). So I stopped my research and performed a few Google searches to satisfy my nagging curiosity. As it turns out the actor who was the voice of Linus is the older brother to Eric Shea, the actor who followed Gene Hackman to safety aboard the overturned Poseidon ship. Consider this your random fact of the day. :)

Number Three: Charles Schulz, who was a strong Christian, wanted his cartoon to include the true meaning of Christmas, which meant adding a religious component to the show. His main animator, Bill Melendez, was not so sure. When he first looked at that part of the story he told Sparky, “We can’t do this, it’s too religious.”

To which Sparky replied, “Bill, if we don’t do it, who else can? We’re the only ones who can do it.” They finished the special which included Linus’ now-famous reading of the King James version of Luke 2: 8-14 then took off for New York to present it to CBS’ top executives.

Producer Lee Mendelson was apprehensive. Many of the animators had shared their opinions that something seemed a little off. Indeed, this was the first Peanuts animated special, and they were using jazz music, no laugh tracks, children's voices and a Bible verse inserted into a cartoon when cartoons were supposed to be funny. The top two CBS executives watched the special, and when it was over they turned to Mendelson.

“Well, you gave it a good shot,” said one executive.

“It seems a little flat … a little slow,” said the other.

However, despite their misgivings CBS still aired the show and incredibly 15 million households tuned in to watch. A Charlie Brown Christmas came in second in ratings (losing out to Bonanza) and later won an Emmy and spurred several more Peanuts specials.

So why do I say we all need a little bit of Charles Schulz’ courage inside of us? When I learned of how Charles Schulz had the courage to stick to his vision of keeping religion in his Christmas special, despite some doubters around him, it reminded me of what would happen three years later when he had the courage to add an African American character to the Peanuts gang, despite people around him worrying it could kill his comic strip. see my blog post

"If we don't do it, who else can?"

Both times Schulz did what he felt was right, and both times the nay-sayers were wrong and Good Ole Charlie Brown thrived. We need a bit of Sparky's courage because we live in times where it can be intimidating to voice an opinion or stick to a vision. There will always be people who may disagree or have doubts (or troll you on Twitter) but if you believe in your vision, don’t be afraid to let it shine. The world may be a better place because of it.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Conversation With My Son. Are You Having This Conversation?

On this 16th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I thought I'd repost the conversation I shared with my son a year ago to this day. 

"Did you watch the movie at school about 9/11?"


"Have I ever told you about what I remember about that day? I had watched the first part of the Today Show and from the stories they were covering that morning I remember thinking, 'must be a slow news day' so I started switching channels. Your dad called and said, 'Did you hear? A plane crashed into the World Trade Center.' I assumed it was a small private plane that had lost control but I quickly turned back to the Today Show and there was the live coverage. 

Of course no one knew exactly what had happened. Terrorism was under suspicion but that didn’t become clear until the second plane hit. Then when the third plane hit the Pentagon it was really scary and almost surreal. It was hard to grasp that our country was actually being attacked, and we didn’t know where it would end. What else was planned? Your dad came home from work. I called Grandma and Grandpa and other family to see where they were and make sure they were okay. Air traffic control ordered all planes to land. But there was one plane that kept flying.”

“Flight 93?”


“Let’s roll?”

I smiled. “You remember me telling you about that? How the passengers fought back?"

He nodded.

“Your dad and I stayed glued to the television set. It was horrible. I can remember seeing things falling from the towers and realizing those were people who were jumping to their deaths.”

“Why would they do that?”

“There was no other way out. Fire was all around them. And I can remember seeing the towers leaning, thinking those are going to fall. They stood for awhile but you could see it. You could see they were going to fall. And imagine all the firefighters and first responders. They ran into those buildings, even though they were full of fire and could collapse at any minute. Can you imagine running into a building that looked like that? They ran into those buildings to try and save people.”

At this point I had to stop. My tears were too close to falling.

“Mom, the movie at school talked about the good in 9/11.”

I looked at him. “The good?

“Well yeah. I mean, it told stories about how people helped each other.”

I nodded. “Yes, people did help each other. They worked together and in the days following 9/11 we all really felt … I don’t know, united, patriotic. You know how people chant USA USA USA? People were chanting that a lot.”

I went on to tell him about how Jay Leno said in his first monologue after the attacks that we’d been sucker-punched. I told him that a concert was given to raise money for the victims and their families and all kinds of artists and celebrities pitched in to help. Tom Petty sang “I Won’t Back Down” and I can remember thinking about what an appropriate song that was to sing, and how to this day I always identify that song with September 11th. I told him how we as Americans knew that our country would fight back, and feeling pride when the news broke that our troops had invaded Afghanistan. I told him that despite all the talk he may hear about the war in Iraq and whether it was justified, that I believe that George W. Bush is a good man, and always had America’s best interests at heart.

Then I told him the story about what happened at the Minneapolis airport, not too long after the attacks. I don’t remember where we were traveling, but our family was waiting for our flight. The gate was so crowded we couldn’t even find seats so we sat on the floor. Finally our plane arrived and the door opened for the passengers to deplane. We watched as service member after service member came through the door and were greeted by their families. I remember tearing up as I watched people hug their loved ones like they never wanted to let them go. And then the coolest thing happened that I will never forget. People started to clap. As the military members and their families started walking through the airport people stopped what they were doing and stood aside to applaud them as they walked by. 

It wasn’t planned. 

It wasn’t organized. 

We were simply Americans, united by tragedy and applauding those who were defending our country.

These are the stories that may not be covered in textbooks, but we can pass them down. What about you? What do you tell your children about that fateful day?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Coming Soon to a School Near You ...

It's 2017 and time to set goals and declare resolutions. To be very honest, I am not the most focused person. In fact, my husband calls me "squirrel!" as I'll be in the middle of doing something, see something that distracts me, and I go off pursuing it like a dog chasing a squirrel before my original task is complete. Not a good trait to have when you need focus, but despite my tendency to get off track I still like to set goals and work towards them. And this year my goal in 2017 (besides finishing the third installment to my Kibblestan series) is to do some Author Visits at schools! I have already done a few and am having a total blast with the kids and hopefully they are having a blast with me! I have updated my website with the presentations I offer, so please check out the Author Visits tab on my website and give me a shout. If you live locally, I can come visit. If you don't, we can Skype! And have a very Happy 2017!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown and Racism ... a year later

In honor of Thanksgiving I thought I would link to the post I wrote a year ago about Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown and racism. Coming off such a crazy election season, with accusations of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, and so many other phobias and isms filling our daily news cycle, I looked at this blog post and realized it is still pretty relevant, perhaps more so this year than last.

The election was stressful for many, and politics is probably a subject that should be avoided at many a Thanksgiving dinner this year, especially if a sufficient amount of wine is consumed. So my Thanksgiving wish is for people to assume the best in each other, instead of jumping to the worst of conclusions about people with whom they disagree. I try to teach my kids to do this--life's just easier that way.

And what does this have to do with Charlie Brown? Well, read the blog post and then ask yourself what should people see when they watch the cartoon clip?  In the end, no one can know what the animators were thinking or what their intentions were nearly 50 years ago. Why assume the worst? Why not focus on the good in the story - the debut of the first African-American Peanuts character?

Or even better, how about not thinking about race at all, and just enjoy the story of Good Ol' Charlie Brown trying to please a demanding Peppermint Patty with a Thanksgiving dinner filled with toast, popcorn and jellybeans? I might enjoy that more than turkey anyway.

And have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Writing, Publishing and Fur Babies ... Oh my!

Here is a link to my second Author Interview of all time! Mercedes Fox is an author whose website has a section dedicated to author interviews, and I am happy to say that she interviewed me! Please take a look as I answer questions regarding my thoughts on the writing and publishing process, discuss my fur babies and talk about Kibblestan. She even features a picture of Speckles, my inspiration for Philecia's character. Hopefully Speckles won't let the fame get to her head. :) Enjoy!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Kinzie, Kibblestan and American Sniper

When you're writing a novel it's important to know your characters inside and out, including their backstory. In writing my second book, The Chronicles of Kibblestan: Canines, I really struggled. I had a good story -- a dog that's gone missing in a Kibblestan that has drastically changed since the first book in the series. Kibblestan is no longer a happy place, there's something sinister about the canines, and my eleven-year-old heroine, Kinzie, is determined to find her missing dog, no matter what the cost. But for some reason there was a disconnect. While Kinzie's actions and story flowed onto the page, her heart and soul stayed just beyond reach. I couldn't figure out her backstory and the writing showed.

Then I went and saw the movie American Sniper, and Kinzie's backstory hit me hard. I came home that day, went straight to my computer and typed out that first chapter like it was nothing.

I recently attended a Veterans Day event at my son's school, and my heart twisted when the speaker asked the kids to raise their hands if they had a parent in the military and close to a hundred kids raised their hands. They sacrifice, too, and I hope that my book can play a small part in showing my appreciation to our military families.

In honor of Veterans' Day, I'd like to share an excerpt:

“Dad?” Kinzie said. “Do you really have to go again? Can’t you get out of it somehow and stay here where it’s safe? With me? Please?”

Dad squeezed Kinzie’s hand. “I’m sorry, punkin. I’ve got to go. I’m a soldier. It’s what I do.”

“But I’m going to miss you so much.” Kinzie blinked back tears. “And Ria will, too.”

Dad squeezed her hand harder. “I know. It’s going to be rough. But you’ll be moving into that new house with your mom and Nate. It’ll be exciting.”

Exciting? Yeah, right. New house, new school, new stepdad and stepsiblings. Even Mo was gaining two new step dogs.

“And we’ll video chat as much as we can. Time’ll fly. Before you know it, I’ll be back.” Dad smiled but Kinzie knew better. This wasn’t like the last time he left, when she was too young to fully understand. This time she did understand, a little too much. She understood that sometimes, soldiers don’t come back, and this knowledge was like an icicle lodged deep in her heart that refused to melt.
Kinzie sat up and reached for her father, hugging him around his neck while she wept on his shoulder.

“I don’t want you to go, Dad. Why do you have to go? Why? Why can’t it be someone else’s mom or dad? Why does it have to be you?”

Dad returned Kinzie’s embrace, gently patting her back. “There, there, punkin. It’s okay. It’s all going to be okay.”

Kinzie lifted her head and stared into Dad’s eyes. “But what if it’s not? What if you don’t come back?”

Dad took a finger and wiped the tears from Kinzie’s face. “Look. A wise man once said that the only way for evil to win, is for good people to do nothing. And unfortunately, there’s evil in the world. Lots of it. And to keep it from spreading, to keep our own country and freedoms protected, well, the good guys can’t do nothing. Understand?”

Slowly, Kinzie nodded. Dad pulled her close and she leaned her head on his shoulder. “Sweetie, America may not be perfect, but make no mistake—we’re the good guys. And when evil’s a threat, we can’t just sit back and do nothing.”

To read the entire chapter click here for Amazon's Look Inside feature. 

For other patriotic children's books, including a special book for the younger set called "Veterans: Heroes in Our Neighborhood" visit

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Chronicles of Kibblestan: Canines

Oh my, oh my.  It has been a busy fall! At long last the second book in my Kibblestan series is available in paperback. Yay!  If you have read my first book, Revolution, you will surely enjoy this second installment in the series featuring characters that are familiar and some that are new, and some canines that are ... well ... Let's just say they would definitely flunk obedience school. I have dedicated this story to the members of the United States military and their families, for I think any military family will appreciate the themes in this book. For more information or to order, click here.

E-book will follow, and my grand plan will be to get these books made into audiobooks as well, but I'm not yet sure when that will happen.

November 1st is National Novel Writing Month and I have signed up to meet the challenge of writing 50K words in one month. Considering this month also has Thanksgiving in it, it will not be easy, but my goal is to have book # 3 out at this time next year, so what better way to incentivize myself to get through this first draft but by signing up for Nanowrimo!  Other than that, life is busy but good. I tend to update my Facebook page more often than this blog, so you should follow me on Facebook if you'd like hear more from me!