May 13

My Mom, the Mayor

Me and mom in February, 2001. I was about to give birth to my first child, Cassidy, and she was about to give birth to her third child (after me and my sister), the Town of Southwest Ranches.

Sometimes life takes a U-Turn. Take tonight, for example. I was planning on writing a lovely Mother’s Day post on my co-authored creativity blog, 4 Chicks and a Muse, about my pride in being a “Home Creator,” like my mom–Mecca Fink–was when I was growing up. I thought it might be cool to show a picture of her, showing how she went from being president of the school PTA, to president of her unincorporated area’s HOA, to co-creator and inaugural mayor of the Town of Southwest Ranches, in Broward County, Florida.

Instead, I found only stories of an ugly corruption scandal a few years back involving one Debra Wasserman-Rubin, her husband and others. The negative comments directed at my mom prompted me to write the response below, my unedited but sincere attempt to put a little truth in the cyber world about all the good my mom did for the town in which she still lives.

My mom and original council member and volunteer fire founder Johnny Dollar celebrating the passing of the vote for SW Ranches to become its own town in 2001.

What a Mother’s Day message I hadn’t anticipated writing. I was simply overcome by compassion for my mom, whom I had no idea endured so much backlash following her eight years of volunteer elected service as mayor, during which, among other visionary ideas, she dreamed of a town rich with parks and preserved open spaces for generations to come. Looks like life threw her a U-Turn I didn’t know about. How sad and yet wonderful that learning of this tonight moved me to gain an even deeper love and respect for my mom.

So Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms and daughters who are moms out there. Share the love!

Original Wanch Waggler Blog Post

Tracey Fink Smith said…

In writing a blog post about my mom, Mecca Fink, for this Mother’s Day, I Googled to see if I could find a picture of her as Mayor. I can’t believe what I’m reading. First of all, “Corn Pone”, my mom wasn’t ejected from office. She was re-elected to a second term, which she served to completion and decided not to run again when both my sister and I were pregnant at the same time. Second of all, I remember my mom first talking about the possibility of helping to make SW Ranches its own Town when, as she was President of the SWR HOA at the time, she learned of plans for Pembroke Pines to annex it. She didn’t want that to happen and fought, I mean really worked hard and fought for YEARS to push the due diligence that led to the 2001 vote to township. I recall her enthusiasm, passion, energy, which she shared freely to help create, build and grow SW Ranches (in addition to her nominal ~$3,500/year “salary”, which she felt important to keep low for elected volunteer officials to ensure integrity). I cannot tell you how it saddens me to now find only negative comments about my mom, who honestly believed she was doing good for the town in its boomtime by investing in parks.

I currently live in Oviedo, Florida, a 100-year old town named one of the top 10 places to live in the country for the past three years. Part of what keeps it in the list is the significant investment the town has made in its many parks and protected green spaces.

And while I know that many accomplished dreamers and leaders throughout history are often lambasted and despised for their efforts, it is so acutely painful to see my mom’s voluntary efforts over nearly a decade not only not acknowledged (even on the town’s own website, there is NO mention of her name), but evidently intentionally discredited. No good deed goes unpunished, as the saying goes.

Debra Wasserman-Rubin may have had less than noble intentions and actions. I don’t claim to know about that. However, I do know my mom’s intentions and actions were always, ALWAYS, in the best interest of the town she pushed to create.

So mock, throw stones and point fingers as you like. The truth is that if it weren’t for my mom (and the town’s early leadership), SW Ranches would be the northern tail of Pembroke Pines today and certainly NOT the one wagging the dog.

The rural lifestyle you all value was preserved. The independence you all share was celebrated and allowed to continue. The green spaces you all cherish was spared, not turned into more concrete strip-malls but rather set aside and secured for the enjoyment of all residents.

Forgive me for speaking my mind so boldly. But if my mom’s taught me anything, it’s to speak the truth as you see it when you know it. And mom, if you happen to see this, know that I’m proud of you. Not just for being mayor and creating a town but for evidently enduring the persecution of the very people you tried to help. I love you anyway. Your grandkids love you. Happy Mother’s Day! <3 Tracey

May 13, 2012 11:14 PM

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Apr 16

The Real Test

It’s been said that Florida only has two seasons: January and summer. While that’s mostly true, I’d add a third season, one which children and their parents here share with so many throughout the country. Yes, it’s the highly anticipated season of standardized test-taking. And if it were a movie, it could be categorized as a thriller, horror or comedy, depending on one’s experience.

A recent article about some powerful psychology around testing kids really hit home with me. It underlined the dramatic results of emphasizing effort over ability. In short, the control group who were told they did well because they were smart did worse on future tests and took less risks than those who were told they did well because they worked hard.

Surprised and shocked by this clear principle, I applied it to my own life. Had I passed the test? As an aspiring writer, had I too (like the subject 5th graders) been caught in a fundamental trap of believing that what I may be–or rather, all I may NOT be–is more important than what I do? Effort results in learning, which ultimately leads to success.

When my daughter’s teacher sent out a request for pencils, I penned these few short lines to remind the kids, and myself, of this simple truth. Feel free to share with your own students, citing my website if possible. Whether they’re facing a national benchmark such as the Stanford or Iowa achievement tests, or a state-customized version, like the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) our public schools take here, my hope is that young test-takers everywhere might be encouraged just knowing that their hard work has already paid off.

THE PENCIL POEM

Sharpen these tools like you’ve sharpened your mind,

And the answers you seek you’re sure to soon find.

For when you work hard and just do your best,

You’ve already passed life’s most challenging test.

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Dec 29

Book on a Hook

“Addie and Ollie” Now Available as Paperback or eBook

What’s your book hook of choice? Whatever your preferred portal, you can now find Addie and her purple octopus there, ready to soothe your big dreamers to sleep.

Amazon – printed

Barnes & Noble – printed or eBook for Nook (or any other EPUB reader, like iPad)

Lulu – printed or eBook for any EPUB reader

Apple – if you have an iPad, you can simply search within the free iBookstore app.

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Dec 13

What’s in a Pen Name?

No, Jane is not my “real” middle name.

My adopted writing name has three parts, each gifted to me by the most important influences of my life and representing an important part of who I am:

TRACEY is the first name given to me at birth by my parents. It means brave, daring, courageous. And while I wouldn’t generally attribute any of these adjectives to myself, they seem to be the very things I most need to work on. So perhaps the words may be more of a life goal than a description, encouraging me to act despite and amid my formidable fears.

Of course, the name can also mean war-like or fighter, which my husband might only half-jokingly tell you is more fitting. And although the “e” in my variant spelling is often omitted by others, I really do like having it there. For what is the first job of a writer but to literally trace the past? Indeed, those often fuzzy, retraced paths of memories, events and human emotions form the only well from which any artist can draw.

SMITH is my last name, the one given to me by my husband. Becoming one of the millions with this common surname was a big change from my maiden name–Fink–which drew a bit more attention in grammar school. Although a writer certainly “informs against another person”, too, I opted to use my married name. It’s the least I can do to thank and honor the man who has been my biggest, unfailing supporter for more than fifteen years now.

From the old English to smite or strike, I am reminded of the hard labor, sweat and perseverance required to successfully ply any trade, writing included. My husband is hands-down the most persistent, patient person I know. Let’s just say, we complement each other well. Once again, these are great characteristics for me to improve upon.

JANE is my middle name, the one given to me in between my others. I received this new name sometime in middle school by my most beloved teacher. To describe Judith Marsh as an amazing English teacher is woefully insufficient. While I am grateful to other teachers for sharing with me a thoughtful appreciation of literature, I can fully credit Mrs. Marsh with teaching me how to write, as can hundreds more like me. Her no-nonsense southern witticism, her precise mastery of grammar, her high expectations of every student (that sometimes resulted in erasers and books being thrown across the room)–these made every pupil at our school fear and eventually love Mrs. Marsh in equal measure.

The inimitable Mrs. Marsh taught middle school English and eighth grade at St. Mark's Lutheran School in Hollywood, Florida between 1972 and 1987.

Now to be clear, I was not the only one rechristened. Many students found new tags after their names, as if a single startling word and always with an elongated question mark at their end.

JenniferAnn? Would you kindly show the class how to diagram this compound sentence?”

“Who would like to tell us why Mr. Miller might have named his character Willy Loman? BonnieSue?

TraceyJane? I KNOW you’re not talking when you should be listening.”

Why did Mrs. Marsh choose new names for some people? It could have just been her southern sense of humor and rhythmic balance. Or perhaps, it was for the same reason God chose new names for some people in the Bible. Maybe it was her was way of letting us know we were becoming something different, even if it was only more literate and articulate 12-year olds.

Whatever the reason, when it came time to decide on my pen name, I smiled at the perfect, simple answer. I heard Mrs. Marsh calling on me in her pointed, lilting voice. And although I have often felt accursed as a Jane of all trades and master of none, my new name is enough to make me feel like a slightly different person. As Tracey Jane Smith, I find myself with just enough courage to risk failure and accept rejection, as I walk down this dusty road to become a “real” writer.

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Nov 29

Meet the Real Addie

My niece Addie, "with blue eyes like the sea, yellow hair like the sun."

A friend who recently purchased the book told me how intrigued her son was that the story was inspired by a real person. In fact, this friend showed a picture of my niece I had posted on Facebook. Since this so interested my friend’s son, I thought other kids and their parents might enjoy the story behind the story, too.

Addie Marie is my first of now three nieces. Two years ago, when Addie was just three, my sister and her family had moved to Hong Kong. Wanting to give Addie something extra special to help soothe her transition to her new surroundings, I wrote her a much longer rhymed story about “Addie and Ellie” as a Christmas present.

For this first Addie story, I tapped my artistic daughter–eight years old at the time–to draw the pictures, right down to the Gymboree polka-dotted nightgown I had picked out for Addie. I even convinced my mom to sew a stuffed elephant toy from a pattern and fabrics I picked to match.

The REAL Addie is everything I say of her character: clever, fun-loving, brave, helpful, considerate. When we’ve Skyped over the past year, she’s enjoyed seeing the development of Bob Ostrom‘s colorful illustrations for Addie and Ollie. While I’m currently working on what I’m calling a Dream-Lib story to post soon, I’m hoping to adapt the original story in the future into one or more books in what I hope can become a series.

This year’s Christmas gift to my sister and nieces includes a printed copy of Addie and Ollie. Like my well-traveled niece, now living in South Korea, it seems that Addie the character has come a long way, too.

 

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Nov 28

Big Values on Little Verses

So evidently repetitive, pushy salesperson is part of the whole self-published author job description. Yes, I feel like I’m constantly bombarding my friends and the online world at large with messages to buy, buy, BUY the book! I really just want to see my baby go out into the world and fulfill its purpose of being enjoyed by children everywhere. (Sounds like I’m entering a Miss America children’s writer’s contest, huh?)

Nevertheless, here’s the scoop. Besides a 15% discount on Addie and Ollie going on right now, you can plug in one of the following Lulu.com codes to get even more savings.

TODAY ONLY! (insert car-ad starburst here) – additional 35% on every book at Lulu.com, including mine. Code: CYBERMONDAY305

THROUGH DECEMBER 14th – additional 25%. Code: BUYMYBOOK305

I don’t make this stuff up, just relay it for those who are or might be interested in giving the special child(ren) in their lives a special gift this holiday season.

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Nov 27

Create-Your-Own Children’s Story Coming Soon!

"The Nutcracker", my original inspiration for a fresh story of a child's dreams brought to life by a beloved, magical toy. Here, my daughter Cassidy as a party girl in Orlando Ballet's 2010 production.

The Addie and Ollie  adventure will soon continue with your own little dreamer and their favorite toy. For a preview of the inspiration behind my newest rhymed story in progress, check out this amazing real video: Crab riding a jellyfish. My upcoming “Dream-Lib” will let parents and kids work together to create their own personalized underwater bedtime story!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nov 20

The Price of Self-Publishing

Signing the first copies for my supportive friends and family.

In 21 days I’ve sold 21 copies of Addie and Ollie. Despite this “initial flurry”–thanks to my mom and closest friends–I’m faced with the frustrating reality of self-publishing: on-demand printing is just much more expensive compared with a mass run by a traditional publisher.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Lulu.com. Without their expertise and resources, I wouldn’t have published anything! And I’m thrilled that through them the book will soon be available on Amazon and Barnes & Nobles. So if a modern Lord Tennyson might have asked, “Is it better to have self-published and struggled than to never have published at all?” I would answer resoundingly, YES!

But even the amazing Lulus can’t change the financial facts. The cost to print books as they are ordered is high. While I could commission my own print run to reduce the cost per book significantly (which I’ve had estimated), I would have no way to get those copies into the distribution channels I enjoy through Lulu. So even if I could easily afford an upfront investment to print books locally, I would really have no way to effectively distribute hundreds or thousands of copies other than trying to sell them directly, which would be difficult on any scale because it would run counter to “the system”.

So global distribution is the real challenge–and perhaps Lulu’s greatest strength. From schools to bookstores, “the system” works so well because of recognized and efficient channels. While the price may prove too prohibitive to compete with the Scholastic and Random House children’s books of the world, Addie and Ollie will still be available for order at a Barnes & Noble store or online through them or Amazon, in addition to Lulu. But as throughout this journey of self-publishing, every challenge is countered with an equal opportunity (see Finding the SELF in Self-Publishing).

Here's how the "Addie and Ollie" eBook version looks on my iPhone!

Once again, self-publishing fosters autonomy and creative problem-solving. So for those who might face similar challenges, I continue to share. Here are my early post-publishing learnings and ideas:

  • Make It Personal – This is a big one for me. Honestly, as a budget-conscious mom, I would never pay $15.95 for a 28-page children’s paperback book without a compelling reason. Hence I feel guilty when my friends do. I’ve very sensitive about not “profiting” from my friends, yet I know that I would myself be happy to buy a book written by a friend if they signed it, to give as gifts. So while the price is what it is, I can at least add value in personalization. I’ve signed almost every one of those 21 books so far (and intend to get the rest when I next go to S. Florida). And of those, most have been for gifts to others from the purchasers, for whom I’ve been thrilled to write a message to surprise a child this Christmas.
  • Share Sales – I’ll continue to pass along special Lulu promotions as I learn of them. I’m waiting until the next 20% off sale to buy my own next bulk copies, too.
  • Publish as eBook – Among their many services, Lulu makes publishing and distributing an eBook easy. Without costly ink and paper as hard cost, this is a much more economical option for readers, even readers around the world whom I’ve never met. While I have never yet read an eBook to my own kids, I hope to in the near future. (Hint, hint, Santa: a color Nook or iPad would be great). My children’s bookshelves are maxed out for space, and I love the neatness and convenience of always having all your books with you in a sleek, well-organized portal. I horrified an acquaintance at a party last night by suggesting that printed books might become more of “collectors’ items” in the future, sort of like 45’s now in a world of electronic music. Why buy when you can i?
  • Find a Sponsor – If athletes can do it, why not those of us wanting to compete with our literary muscles? If I had a sponsor that could also distribute a print run of say 1,000 books to reduce my cost for smaller events, that would be great. For me, I think I’ll start with the vitamin company that sponsored the contest I won for this book. If they say no, maybe some local Orlando resorts might be willing to fund a modest run, in return for weekly kids’ club reading/signing events. Universe, are you listening? 🙂
  • Pray for an Agent – While I remain grateful to Lulu for this entry into the world of publishing, I’m gaining a deeper appreciation of the key role an agent plays in selling your book/yourself to publishers. They’re evidently an essential element in “the system” which works so well–if you’re in it. So before the turkey leftovers are gone, I will be reaching out to children’s book agents for the first time. No doubt, there will be more rejection involved, but hey, what do I have to lose?

 

 

 

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Oct 27

Now Available! Now What?

CLICK HERE TO BUY THE FIRST COPIES OF “ADDIE AND OLLIE” FROM LULU.COM!

I just returned home from dropping my kids off at school to find my eagerly awaited package from Lulu.com. In it was the final proof of Addie and Ollie. I gave it a quick read-through–not wanting to find anything at this point but confident from past over-thought reads that it was good to go.

When the previous proof had come, my husband grabbed it first. As he read carefully, he said “uh oh, why did you spell this wrong?” I immediately countered alarmingly, “What! Let me see!” He had been joking to elicit the exact dramatic reaction. My only change had been to take out a redundant title page and superfluous blank back page, neither which served any purpose as I could tell, hoping to bring down the cost that much more.

This time, everything was fine. (I’m retraining myself to avoid the word “perfect”.) It was good to go. So before I had time to over-think, second-guess or just simply procrastinate, I booted up my Mac and approved the book for distribution.

 

So what now? This post is at least as much for my own clarity as that of any reader. When in doubt, make a list!

1. Finish this post.

2. Let all my friends and other interested parties know that the book is now available for purchase through Lulu. (Purchases through tomorrow, Friday, October 28 can get 20% off using code: BURIED). There’s this site, my shared 4 Chicks and a Muse blog, Twitter, Facebook–and for my parents who still avoid the previous channels like the plague–email. 😉

3. Look out for the book to be available for sale on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in 6 to 8 weeks from now to add sales widget on site.

4. Write the “Mad Libs” style interactive activity for another poem that can be filled in by kids.

5. Get with illustrator Bob Ostrom to post coloring pages from the book for kids.

6. Talk to my daughter’s elementary school and my son’s pre-school about the possibility of a book reading/signing/form purchase with proceeds benefitting their respective schools.

7. Order my own starter copies, while the discount is still going on.

Well, I’m sure there are a million more things I don’t know yet that I should be doing. But this gives me enough to think about for now. If you have an idea, suggestions, advice or proposal of how I might sell more, by all means, please share!

After all, Addie, Ollie and I are only at this point because of all the support (and electronic votes!) of so many amazing people in my life. This has been a group voyage from the start. I can’t wait to see where we sail next!

 

 

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Sep 28

Finding the SELF in Self-Publishing

Tonight, as I emailed final approval for “Addie and Ollie” to Lulu.com, I thought I’d share some of the wonder, and irony, I’ve discovered in my self-publishing voyage.

First, if you follow my shared creativity blog, 4 Chicks and a Muse, you’ll know that the other Chicks and I continue to be very inspired by Julia Cameron. I only recently learned, however, that this bestselling author of the groundbreaking Artist’s Way series of books has always herself self-published. She vows it’s the only way she’ll ever go.

The truth is, I always thought of self-publishing as the easy way out. You know, those who can’t get published, self-publish. I mean, anyone with enough cash on hand to buy a knock-off laptop can publish their own book. Where’s the honor in that? How can you call yourself a REAL author if you publish yourself, right? Well, Julia certainly proves those assumptions wrong.

But for me, the real answer came some months back. Throughout this journey, my primary contact at Lulu.com has been a friendly and patient gentleman by the name of Gannon H. No, I’m not reserving his last name for privacy; that’s how his emails come. It’s all very efficient, and yet mysterious.

Anyway, after Gannon H. forwarded me a Lulu editor’s comments last spring, I was completely lost. He (or she) had said kind things in the general remarks. But when it came to specific feedback, I panicked.

It’s not like there were a lot of remarks, or that they were drastic. Nevertheless, I pored over the dozen or so relatively minor suggestions for days, maybe weeks. I’m sure that in between I worked very hard to avoid looking at the document at all.

Ultimately, I came to understand that the thinking and purpose behind each remark was very useful. However, I was torn because I didn’t necessarily agree with the exact words with which to accomplish each objective.

Mostly, this had to do with my rhyme scheme. I’m pretty picky about rhyme and rhythm. As a mom, I know I most enjoy re-reading books to my kids that are easy to speak. Dr. Seuss couplets roll off the tongue like happy little musical refrains. You feel where accents should be, even if there were no punctuation at all. I think children understand the music of books before they understand their meaning.

Thus entrenched in this dilemma, I suggested to GH that I speak with said mystery editor directly. If he (or she) knew my reasoning, perhaps they would approve of another solution. My contact informed me that this was not part of the process. What he told me next was nothing less than an abomination to this lifelong people-pleaser.

“It’s up to you,” he explained earnestly. “It’s your book, so it’s whatever YOU want.”

This was not acceptable. I had to get off the phone. How could I work under these conditions? (Diva hair flip)

I needed direction. I needed approval. I needed someone else to tell me what was best!

Gannon was, of course, right. Pondering his simple statement of the facts, I realized the full value of the gift I had been given to be able to self-publish first, if not always. It would force me, at least for a moment, to stop obsessing about what other people thought about what I wrote. I had to trust my voice, and my decisions. I had to approve of my words. Worse yet, I had to approve of myself.

It’s a lesson I don’t claim to have mastered but one I had to act on–or else. If I didn’t, the book wouldn’t get published. It was that simple.

I did (eventually) make those tough decisions. Tonight I made the last of them when I told Gannon H.–and Tracey J. S.–that the book was good to be printed. It was I who gave final approval, and it felt frightening/foreign/wonderful/empowering.

I can only hope this is the beginning of a trend.

And as you forward your own creative work–from writing, dancing or sewing to painting, singing or redecorating the living room–feel free to learn from my mistakes.

Seek out good advice wherever  you can, but not approval. You know what feels right. Now go with it!

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