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Author Showcase

Summer 2008 Featured Author Mosetta M. Penick Phillips-Cermak, Ph.D.

RT: You wrote The Wishing Flower and The Wishing Flower Baby Book as original fairy tales. Like many fairy tales, they have classic characters (i.e., a king and queen), yet the story itself seems to have a modern-day feel. Was there someone or something in your life that inspired you to create this story? Was there ever any thought to creating the story as something other than a fairy tale?

Mosetta: One of the reasons that The Wishing Flower has such an appeal in academic circles is that it has a modern feel, yet it encompasses all the traditional elements of the fairy tale genre. All fairy tales offer a lesson. Mine is that our children are our most precious gifts. The queen (the main character) is generous, kind, and unselfish. What makes this story different from a traditional fairy tale is that there is no evil person with the opposite traits. Instead, a set of unhappy circumstances create the tragedy that requires the queen's skills. I didn't see a need to use evil devices that frighten children. But I also want to show that magic is not perfection. It is important to understand that we should look beyond physical imperfection to see into the soul of the being. I wrote this story as a gift to my niece and two neighbors, each of whom became mothers on a different path. through different ways. Fairy tales cover a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and these women came from completely varied heritages.

RT: In your lesson plan for The Wishing Flower, you explain that in the 1800s the Brothers Grimm collected 277 stories, many of which are the fairy tales we remember as children. Did you find it a daunting task to create an original fairy tale?

Mosetta: When I think of my childhood, I remember my mother reading fairy tales at bedtime and my grandmother telling me Bible stories. I never considered writing anything other than a fairy tale. The Wishing Flower wrote itself. I woke up one morning with the story in my mind. The manuscript was done in about three weeks. Then I spent six months editing, rewriting, and seeking other input. That process hasn't stopped. The just-released second edition has changes, too.

RT: To promote your books you collaborated with Chocolatier Kandies by Karen to create sweets with your book images. You also created a store at Café Press filled with Wishing Flower merchandise. It seems that more and more authors are creating tailored products to complement their books. Were these venues successful promotional tools for you?

Mosetta: Yes, very much so. My younger brother Eric is the vice president of a financial company. He has an MBA and an undergraduate degree in Finance. I know that books don't sell themselves, so The Wishing Flower and the next book in the series, The Magic of Laven-Rock, both have very detailed business plans.

Branding has been around as long as there has been advertising. If I were rich, it would be easier to create the buzz necessary to sell a half million books. Without that kind of budget, you need to develop your own branded items to keep the book in the mind of the public. T-shirts and hats, pens and pencils, candy and cookies, as well as the fan club and theme parties are part of a detailed plan. The goal is to recast the identity of the book into a series of items that creates a vision of the book and unleash the power of product identification. My promotional products remind people about my book and its characters.

RT: Publishers are in the business to produce your work, not promote your book. In fact, you wrote a book called How to Promote Your Book for $3.00 a Day. What have you found to be the most valuable lesson learned in promoting your books?

Mosetta: One of the most important lessons I learned about promoting my book was to get beyond the feeling that promotion was somehow immodest. I grew up believing that it was rude to discuss your accomplishments. But if you do not believe in your books and you don't promote them, few others will. I also learned that I need to maintain the same kind of discipline promoting my books as I used to write them. I choose a day to do promotional work and follow through with the task I set. Even so, I cannot let promoting one book interfere with my writing schedule. How to Promote Your Book for $3.00 a Day helps authors draw the connection between the best promotion plan for their book AND the sequence of activities that help things fall into place.

RT: Can you tell us about the novel that won 2006 National Writing Novel Month recognition? Is this the middle-grade fantasy novel you hope to publish?

Mosetta: Let's start with the second question. The manuscript that received that recognition is currently titled Return to K'briadron. It is a young adult novel full of mystery, intrigue, and older adolescent strivings and temptations. I have never shared any information about this story with anyone, except my editor, so you have an exclusive! K'Briadron has another year of work before it is ready to begin the rounds of publishers. My middle-grade fantasy is titled The Book of Moncoto. It is loosely based on the Twelve Labors of Hercules. I worked on it during the 2005 National Writing Novel Month, but I didn't make it to the required 50,000 words. It was an official entry for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Although it did not win, I was very encouraged that it made it through all the preliminaries to that point. I'm currently seeking a publisher for that manuscript.

RT: You created the illustrations for the Wishing Flower and Wishing Flower Baby Book on your home computer. What prompted you to move in that direction?

Mosetta: I didn't originally write these books to be published. I wrote the story as a gift to my niece. My brother Eric thought the story was so wonderful he shared it with one of his friends. This friend decided that he wanted to publish it. Although I knew I would be criticized for my decision, I wanted my original illustrations to be part of the story. The pictures are simplistic and childlike to complement the innocence of the story.

RT: What did you find to be the most rewarding part of the decision to be your own illustrator? What was the most challenging?

Mosetta: The people for whom I wrote the book recognized themselves. I knew them well, so even with my childlike and unarguably less than professional illustrations, they were able to identify themselves. I am not an artist, but I did not want to relinquish the initial control of the project. This may be my only opportunity to create my own illustrations. Even while I was working, my eyesight continued to diminish, and I found it extremely challenging just see what I was doing. I haven't had the same emotional issues with The Magic of Laven-Rock.

RT: I read in a press release that you encouraged Eric to attend the University of Notre Dame, in part because at the time you could go to college Notre Dame did not admit women. What do you see as the greatest achievement for women in the last 50 years?

Mosetta: Eric was a phenomenal athlete, and most of the well-known coaches of the time were recruiting him. We thought the University of Notre Dame was the best choice for him and that the University would prepare him well for the Pros. We knew he would graduate, since the school valued education more than sports. Even back then — especially before students had to maintain a specific GPA — many college athletes never got their degree. Athletes of color played until their eligibility ran out and then were dismissed from school. I knew it wouldn't happen at Notre Dame.

I wanted to be a Veterinarian. Believe it or not, it was harder for women to get into veterinary medicine than into regular medical school. When I declared a premed major, the school tried to channel me into nursing first, and then into pediatrics. It is ironic that I ended up opting for psychology and teaching. I wanted to go to Notre Dame because it was a Jesuit school and the Jesuits teach students how to think. Even when I was in graduate school at John Carroll University, women were only allowed on campus in the evening for graduate classes. No undergraduate women were permitted.

1958...I remember it well. When I think back, one of the most important changes that has occurred is that women are no longer chattel. Spousal abuse is no longer condoned by a legal system that stated it was okay for a man to beat his wife. Women no longer need to have their husband's or father's written permission to conduct business and other legal matters. When my grandmother got married, she had to give up teaching because a married woman could no longer be a teacher. Her place was at home. She did not return to classroom teaching until after my grandfather died in 1947. Nearly twenty years later, the same thing happened to me. When I became pregnant, I had to resign my teaching position because pregnant women could not work in the schools. When my husband and I bought our first house in the 1960s, the bank insisted on a letter from my doctor assuring them that I was on birth control; otherwise, I could not sign the mortgage papers. Although women are still passed over for promotion and some don't make as much as their male counterparts, we are moving forward. In the last 50 years, there have been many great achievements for women. Many of them are entwined with the Civil Rights Movement. It defined the rights of individuals as people, and granted them dignity and respect.

RT: You have taught everyone from Kindergärtners to adults in your career as an educator. Who are the most eager learners? Who are the most discerning?

Mosetta: Second graders are the most eager learners, followed by Kindergarteners. I love teaching second graders because they are developing a command of the written language, and they are beginning to codify and make sense of their world. They can read, write, and express themselves. They can follow more complex directions and make tiny leaps in logic. Although all teaching must still be hands on with concrete examples, they can make things, do activities, and understand concepts. Students in graduate school are the most discerning, of course.

RT: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Mosetta: First, I would like to thank The Reading Tub® for the opportunity to discuss my books and my writing philosophy. The Wishing Flower now has a new fan club. Come join us at http://www.thewishingflower.com/fanclub.html.

I am very excited that my book has been well received, especially by the academic community. I have a new book scheduled for release approximately every eight months from now until 2012. I write to impart information and affect a child's life. Writing is a natural outgrowth of my commitment to children, to life, and to the search for truth. It is also a way to contribute to posterity. To write is to put into reality the values, beliefs, and knowledge central to your very being. As a writer, I create a world where children can reach out and test the limits of their imagination in safety. As an author I let children take their classroom with them. They carry it home in their backpack, sneak under the covers (flashlight in hand), and read in the dark of night.

Website: http://thewishingflower.com


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