Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Author Interview: Deanna Beach

How long have you been writing?

I wrote my first children’s book about 8 years ago.  I was the child psychologist on an Army post in Vicenza, Italy.  It’s home to the 173rd Airborne Combat Unit.  As they deployed for their 2007 tour to Afghanistan a wave of children were brought in with the chief complaint being that the parents having difficulty getting them to sleep.  Given the stress in these families and the disruption to the family systems it was not surprising.  As part of getting the children to sleep I would have the parents help them visualize a safe and happy place with sensory cues like ‘feel the warm grass under your feet.’  My husband was also deployed with the 173rd, and I started to do the same routine with my children.  The book ‘Dreamland Magic’ (due out this summer) is the result of those experiences.  Since I was in Europe and working a very full-time job with two small children at home, I did not have time to pursue publishing the book.  I just gave it to families as part of the tools that we would use when children were having difficulty sleeping and it helped.

Since we are in the military we get moved a lot.  After Italy my husband was stationed in Hawaii and it took a while for me to get my normal job back.  So, I started to thinking about a phrase that I developed during that same deployment to help children cope with stress -, ‘But Aren’t I Lucky That…” and out poured my second children’s book. 

I initially stumbled onto the phrase ‘But Aren’t I Lucky That…’ while trying to find a way to draw an anxious child out of his preoccupation with his fear that his father was going to die. Normally this would be one of those fears of childhood that has no basis in reality and is just part of developing object permanency, but we were on a small Army post in Italy and the 173rd Airborne Combat Unit was deployed to Afghanistan. It was a hard deployment and we had lots of wounded and killed in action. Saying, "It's okay." or "He'll be fine." would have been absurd. Kids know when you're lying. So, instead we focused on what we knew to be true at the moment. At that moment we were lucky because we had not had any bad news and the child had recently received a phone call from his father. We then took this deeper and started to find other things that were lucky about the day and quickly moved to making it a game. I then taught it to his mother and they would play it whenever he was having difficulty. This helped concretely bring him, and us, back to the here and now, which made the anxiety bearable.

During that deployment the Army initiated a massive campaign at about that time called Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness – CSF2.  It takes evidence-based strategies from the field of positive psychology that foster resiliency and teaches it to soldiers.  ‘But Aren’t I Lucky That…’ is the combination of these two influences – my experience helping children deal with intense stress and the current research findings.  

Why did you write But Aren't I Lucky That....?

It seemed like the best way to get these concepts into the hands of parents and caregivers would be to put them in a story.  The story conveys the meaning all by itself, but I have also included a discussion section in the back of the book that explains the tools that the book covers and gives care givers prompts to talk about the concepts with their kids.  When you know something works don’t you want to share it?  I do.

Are you currently working on any other projects?

Yes, I have revised the ‘Dreamland Magic’ book and plan to get that illustrated and published.  Also, I have started on another of what I hope will be a series of  ‘But Aren’t I Lucky That…’ books that makes it easy to incorporate the strategies we know reflect resilient thinking and good parenting.

Could you talk a bit about the publication process of your book?

When I decided to take the process of publishing seriously I did my research.  I learned about submitting query letters, the high rate of rejection, the possibility of self-publishing, and (most scary) the author’s platform.  I say the platform is the scariest for me because it is the most unnatural thing for me to do.  As a psychologist I don’t collect names and emails to stay in touch with my clients.  If I do my job right you are not supposed to need me again.  So, when all of a sudden I am supposed to be engaging and self-promoting it feels weird, but I’m learning. 

But I digress; I did the classic round after round of query letters.  Some of the ones that I got back were really sweet and encouraging.  For example, I will paraphrase, “while I love the story and it seems really marketable…it’s not in my lane.”  Sweet, but still a rejection.  I grew tired of waiting and started to look into the self-publishing option more seriously.  Most of the print-on-demand groups are set up for novels, but the Children’s book side of the house is growing.  I realized that if I could get it illustrated then I could get it printed.  That’s when I found my illustrator, Steven Lester, on www.freelancer.com.  I absolutely love his work.  His first illustration of my main character was so spot on that the choice was easy.

What do you like about writing for younger children?

What I like about writing for children is the same thing that I love about working with them.  When you bring a new idea or help to fix a difficulty it is like watching a new flower reaching for the sun.  A little light, a little water, a little love and they open up and blossom.

Deanna's Twitter: @deannabeech

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