I live in the middle of nowhere in northwestern Michigan. Sitting at my curly maple desk, I craft wacky children’s stories while admiring the treetops, visiting critters and impossibly blue skies.
Anne Murray is my author’s name for my children’s books. That was my granny’s maiden name. I was named for her as she was called Nan. Even “Nanny Goat.” Have no idea why. The goat part, I mean. She was always a good sport and willing to try new things. And I thought that she had a lot of courage to move from a very small town in northern Minnesota to Texas in her fifties.
Even though she lived 1300 miles away, I loved her dearly. She would send me letters sharing what she had for dinner like peas and enclose a stick of Juicy Fruit gum. When we visited each spring, she would cook an enormous turkey dinner that could have fed us all week. But she loved it when my dad would take all of us to Luby’s cafeteria and she could snag her favorite dessert–lemon meringue pie. We were happy to see her eat, hoping she would gain a few pounds on her 89-lb. frame.
So my children’s books honor my grandmother and her acceptance, humor and great love.
After decades of finding all kinds of excuses to avoid writing, I am now playing with children’s books. Upside-down fairy tales. Ghanian folk tales. Childhood memories. Who knows what else?
Stay tuned for the next adventure.
I love to hike, camp, kayak and enjoy nature’s wonders. I talk to visiting critters…who sometimes respond with their behavior. Delight in a treat of dark chocolate. Scamper in dappled sunlight. And skip when no one is looking.
What led me to write children’s books?
You wouldn’t think that a broken arm would lead to writing children’s books, but there you are. I shattered the bone in my upper arm a few years ago. It healed quickly and well, but left me with damaged nerves and muscles that needed to be re-trained. Not to mention 24/7 pain. It wasn’t debilitating pain. Most of the time it was fairly minimal. At other times, moderate. But annoying nonetheless.
After a while, the continual pain becomes like a pesky buzzing fly in my ear.
So I saw my acupuncturist who relieved the pain in three months. He then referred me to his partner-in-crime who worked in TriGenics, a treatment that addressed the misfiring nerves and coordinated them with the brain. As that treatment progressed, I regained my energy, flexibility and stamina. And desire to do more with my life.
After a while, I asked myself, “What’s next?”
So how did I get this broken arm? Well, here’s the story:
We had a beautiful Christmas day in Miramar Beach, walking on the white-sand beach in 75-degree weather. Have Gulf views inside our lovely condo and a huge balcony. Lots of hiking trails and good restaurants and sources of great food and friendly people. Not too tacky.
But our adventures here have taken an unexpected turn. No, I didn’t get into a bar fight. Or tackle an alligator. Let me tell you…
On the very last day of 2016, we treated ourselves to a great dinner/lunch in late afternoon. As we left the restaurant, I was trotting ahead of Jim by about six paces, clutching a bottle of Jameson’s Irish whiskey that we had just purchased. As I headed to the car, my mind was debating whether to aim for the driver’s side or the passenger’s. I didn’t make it to either. I tripped on the curb because it was a double-curb. The first step-down was edged by a line of bricks, so it was difficult to notice the height difference. The curb to the blacktop was clearly marked in yellow, but, by that time, it was too late.
As I was inevitably traveling to the ground, my mind said, “Protect the bottle.” So I twisted my body with my left arm cradling the booze. Dumb idea. My body, much wiser, said “Throw that damn bottle!” So, at the very last second, I flung the bottle, sending it about ten feet, and landed on the twisted muscles of my left side. With pretty much all of my body weight, which we will not discuss. And all of my forward momentum. Jim came bounding up to me and a very kind guy who was getting into the car next to ours wanted to make sure that I was all right. He asked what hurt and I told him that it was only my left arm and shoulder. He and Jim helped me up, which wasn’t too difficult because my legs, hips and right arm were fine. I felt my arm and shoulder and detected no break. “I’ll be fine,” I told him. “Just a little sore for a few days.”
Didn’t want to go and be prodded and poked and have unnecessary x-rays taken.
But, after three days, when I was still in significant pain and couldn’t lift my arm more than a titch, we decided to consult a nearby urgent care clinic. (Jim was probably rolling his eyes and sighing, “At last.”) After taking some x-rays, they somberly informed me that my left humerus was broken and that I had bone chips that might need repair by an orthopedic surgeon. Not exactly what I was hoping to hear.
I tell ya, a lot of hassle just to get out of dishes and laundry… And all of my e-mails were typed with one finger. It’s kinda tricky to do things one-handed. Like blow your nose…
The folks at urgent care took really good care of me. Gave me an anti-inflammation shot. Stabilized my arm, wrapping it securely and giving me a sling. Called in a script for a decent painkiller that is non-narcotic. Slept for 11 hours after that visit and then took a 3-hour nap the next day.
Saw the surgeon two days later and received great news. Most of the cracked bones are already aligned properly. There’s one small bone that is sticking up too far and we’ll deal with it as it heals. The surgeon, a common-sense guy with a sense of humor, didn’t think that it was worth the expense and risk of surgery. Yea!!! I don’t need a cast, just a sling. That means that I can shower, for which Jim is grateful, and that I can dress more normally, which may or may not be a benefit.
You know, it could have been a lot worse. I’m grateful that I threw the bottle or I would have landed on broken glass. Not pretty. I’m grateful that I didn’t hit my head, which apparently has enough damage. I’m grateful that I didn’t land on and re-injure my left hip, which took considerable time and hard work to heal. I’m grateful that I have Jim’s help with all kinds of things that I did effortlessly a few days ago.
And I’m especially grateful that I don’t have to have surgery. Spending time in a hospital is not my favorite choice of activity.
You know, if I hadn’t had that silly bottle in my hand, I probably could have done some last-minute body English and prevented a complete crash. Or, if I’d been facing forward instead of curving my body to protect the bottle, I might have landed on my hands and knees, scraping them but not breaking any bones. Or I might have fallen on the car hood, breaking my descent.
It’s as though my body said, “Well, we’re going down. What will do the least damage?” Landing on my arm with great force was preferable to shattering my hip, breaking my knee or crushing my ankle. I could have been in much worse shape. I’m grateful.
Reminds me of the gal who was hit by a car in the crosswalk of a street and, while lying there waiting for help, remarked that at least she didn’t land in the dog doo. Oh, yeah.
Ready for the next adventure…
How did I invest in my future?
As I finished my last TriGenics treatments to restore function in my arm/shoulder, I decided to invest in a marketing course for copywriting. Copywriting is creating messages for marketing. Persuasive writing. It can pay very well once you are established with some reliable clients.
The problem is getting those clients. Not so easy. After some time, I realized that I would be spending more of my time marketing than writing. Almost like a regular corporate job—which didn’t give me the freedom that I craved.
So I decided that, even though I was good at copywriting, I didn’t want to pursue it. Walked away.
What type of writer am I?
I’m a “pants” writer. What does that mean? I work by the seat of my pants instead of from a formal outline or crib sheet. Sometimes I scribble down an idea or place name, but, most of the time, it just rattles around in my head.
(So that’s what all that noise is…)
The words pour out of my hands when I sit down to the keyboard because I’ve done all of the work in my head. I “write” when I’m taking a walk or driving in town or making hearty soup. At some point, I may stop and give it a rest. I may know where I want my characters to end up, but not sure how to get there. Or have a scene in mind, not fully fleshed out. After a day or two, I can usually make my characters dance.
Or at least do a slow saunter.
If I’m stuck, I don’t worry about it. I place my attention somewhere else. While I’m talking to or e-mailing someone, taking a walk or running errands, suddenly the solution will speak to me.
What age group do I target?
My first three books are for ages 7-12 (or as a promoter told me, perhaps 6-13.) That’s because of the upside-down fairy tale approach with more sophisticated language and the antics of the characters.
My next three books will be for ages 5-7 with simpler language and a more childlike story. So I’m not writing for just one age group.
If I had to pick my own favorite age group, it would be ages 7-9. I think that it would be difficult to write a picture book for preschoolers, but I won’t totally rule it out. Who knows?
Are the characters like me?
The Cinder Ella character is a bit like me because she finds her own path. She is different—in dress, in attitude, in how she chooses to spend her time. She doesn’t worry about being “unladylike” by dressing sensibly and working hard and indulging in unusual sports. She is more interested in having a true friend than in impressing the “popular kids.”
So, yes, there are some similarities. I did work very hard at home. Fenced with my dad and hiked and biked instead of playing softball or tennis. Happily dressed in old beat-up clothes to paint or do heavy work. Dressed much older than my age in other ways; instead of pleated skirts and knee-high socks, I wore sophisticated pencil skirts, fitted sweaters, nylons and ballet flats.
In Peter Pants, I am probably more like Peter than Gwendolyn. Not that I avoided responsibility, but that I didn’t want to be boxed in. I didn’t want my future to be sealed by the time I graduated high school. I didn’t want to be labeled as belonging in a certain box. I wanted to explore more options and have more freedom. With good friends by my side, of course.
Any similarities to Gert in Hammy & Gert? Well, I admire her ability to adapt to difficult situations and contribute valuable ideas to keep them safe. Her skill with weaving that ultimately saved their lives. And her resilience in recognizing a new opportunity and welcoming a better future within a better environment with a warm and accepting mother figure.
But I identify with Hammy and his ability to anticipate problems and plan to confront or avoid them. Hammy’s protective nature and courage also speak to me.
How do I write my stories?
When I started, I was using a desktop computer in my own office. I sat on my tractor seat chair with my curly maple desk, using my lowered ergonomic keyboard pad. My reading glasses, pen and paper at my side. Favorite objects on my desk—several rocks, a bronze mouse, a triangular piece of spaulted maple, a disk with the impression of my beloved kitty’s paw. My printer, of course.
Since I live in the middle of nowhere, it’s very quiet. Usually no disturbances. I can see treetops outside my window against the sky. It’s fun to watch the seasons change outside the window.
I don’t usually eat or drink in front of my computer, although I start my mornings with a large glass of water. And a fruit/vegetable plate.
A few months ago, I switched to a laptop computer. It’s called a 2-in1 computer because I can turn it so that it sits on the keyboard. I do that so that I don’t have to use the small, inconvenient keyboard on the laptop, but can just use the screen for my work. I connect it to my ergonomic keyboard, which is much easier for me to use.
Because my laptop is portable, I might work from different locations on occasions. I might sit on the screened porch and work closer to nature. Or on the dining room table where I have a different view.
Why is writing my passion?
One of the reasons that it was hard for me to settle on any one thing was because I was good at a lot of different things. At one time, I saw myself getting a graduate education and working in a research lab of some kind. Possibly in neuroscience.
Or becoming a counselor in psychology, which would have also required a graduate degree.
I was good at detail and seeing the big picture. I worked in child protective services and as a Probation Officer. I spent many years in management of one type or another. I also had “dumb” pink collar jobs occasionally—retail, smart-mouthed cocktail waitress, scheduling coordinator.
Once I even worked as a stripper. No, not THAT kind of stripper. It’s a position in the publishing industry where you “strip” old copy from the text and insert corrections in a manual process.
So why writing? In my healing process, I developed a friendship with my TriGenics healer. I started writing him notes which he really enjoyed. I hadn’t written anything in ages, so communicating in that way reminded me that writing is a natural form of expression for me. What if I took it further?
So as I finished my last TriGenics treatments, I enrolled in a copywriting course through AWAI. It didn’t actually teach copywriting, but ways to market yourself to earn an income as a copywriter. It was a good course, but, as I slowly realized that I would be spending an incredible amount of time in marketing and considerably less in writing.
I wasn’t sure that was for me. I had already lived a life in corporate culture with daily business expectations. That wasn’t the type of work that I preferred.
Now what? Wearable art? Some business that I could run from my computer? I floundered around with a lot of ideas. Even spent some money on programs that were more flash than substance.
My friend whispered “e-books” in my ear. I wasn’t immediately enthralled with that possibility. I don’t know. What type of book?
After wrestling with my choices for a while, I suddenly remembered that I had always wanted to write children’s books. Kept putting it off. Maybe now was the right time. Why not?
I invested in a course that taught techniques for writing for the amazon.com market. I didn’t follow all of the advice, but it was a good first step.
As I played with ideas and started pounding my keyboard, I knew that I had found my passion. It makes me happy to tell these stories. I like taking my pen for a walk across the page or let my fingers fly over the keyboard. It ignited that spark within.
I am home.
What would I say to my characters?
Stay open. Be ready to face whatever is thrown at you and trust yourself to find your own way.
Treat strangers like friends…because you may find hidden treasures within them. Treat friends like strangers…because, if you give them the freedom to express themselves fully, you may be surprised by their depths.
Observe the world around you. If you can look with an open mind and accepting heart, it will reveal its secrets to you.
What are the goofy parts of being a writer?
Because children’s books are illustrated, I need to work with an illustrator to bring my book to life. Even though I may have an image in my head for the way that I want my character to appear in an illustration, it’s not always easy to convey that in words. Often I will search the internet to find a picture that shows the illustrator what I have in mind. But sometimes, even after an extensive search, I can’t find the pose that I want for the illustration. So what do I do?
I have someone take a photo of me in the pose. That’s where it gets creative. And a bit crazy.
I wanted to show the action of Peter Pants crashing through the bedroom window. So I pretended to fall on the floor with one leg bent under me and one leg up, arms flying around.
My illustrator wasn’t sure what I meant when I described the guy that Cinder Ella meets at the ball as “scuffing his shoe.” So I had a picture taken of my lower legs and feet with one foot scraping the floor awkwardly.
That’s what you do to convey the message. Whatever it takes.
It’s goofy. And it’s one of the fun ways to communicate.
Sometimes you have the best intentions of having important writing done ahead of time so that you are never caught off-guard without what you need when you need it. That’s the best way to do it, of course. But it doesn’t always work that way.
When I was ready to publish my first book, I sent what I thought was all of the relevant information to my book cover designer—the illustration for the cover, the cover text, the entire story and some instructions on how I wanted the cover to look. His response? I need your back book cover copy. Oh jiggerdiddles! I had completely forgotten to write the back cover copy. Didn’t have a line.
Naturally this happened at the very end of the evening when I was planning to go to bed in about fifteen minutes. EEEEK! Now what?
I decided to stay up a bit later to cobble together some ideas. I grabbed an idea or two from some previous text and created some new copy. After working 1 ½ hours later than usual, I decided to go to bed and start fresh in the morning.
Except that didn’t work. I couldn’t sleep. Kept playing with new ideas. Finally I got up and went back to my computer. Might as well stay up until I finished my forgotten back cover copy. So I fiddled and researched articles and looked at examples. Spent a considerable amount of time procrastinating. As morning broke, I pounded the keyboard with back cover copy that pleased me. Done in a flash.
Done. At 6:00 a.m.
Then I went to bed.
What is a writer’s life?
Pretty much like anyone else’s life. Being a writer does not exempt you from doing the laundry or scrabbling together supper or cleaning the toilets. No one offers to mop your floors or re-organize the pantry because you write books. Nope, all the daily living stuff still falls on your lap. Even when you have a deadline.
The major difference is that your work time is your own responsibility. No one will tell you when it’s time to work and when it’s time to stop. So you have to develop the discipline to sit down to work when you need to produce results. And you need to know when it’s time to say “enough” before you become boggle-headed. You can actually become counter-productive if you work too long without a break. Unless you are working with a traditional publisher, your deadlines are your own. You are the one applying the pressure to meet your goals. It helps to have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish…in a measurable amount of time.