Sunday, July 3, 2016


It's taken me a little over two weeks after moving to feel settled enough to get back into my routine. Writing, eating, taking a shower and even walking the dog have all been upended and out of whack for these two weeks. But I am counting my blessings and can't even begin to imagine how those in turbulent life circumstances, like homelessness, are able to cope.

I still don't have a workable desk (but then, I didn't in my last home, either), don't have a workable file cabinet, one bed still needs to be put together, lots of work in the woods and lawn needs to be done, and other odds and ends, but I've done an incredible amount of work over the last two weeks and am plenty lucky.
Last week, from my yard
Today I plan to hit a ton of backlogged non-house work, including querying one of my picture book manuscripts (yet again), and working on NC State Advisory Council on Indian Education things so I can hit the week writing the first draft of my middle grade novel on Tuesday (yep, I'll take that holiday Monday!).

Pics of visitors from the past two weeks (excluding the rabbits and moles):

What I discovered one morning in the kitchen trash can I washed out and left on the driveway to dry the night before. Point of note for fellow mouse lovers: that trash can was clean when I went to bed. One mouse did all those yuckies. No idea how it got in there since I left the trash can standing straight up.

I went outside to take a pic of the frog on the deck roof overhang thingy this morning. The hummers were more comfortable with me this week and finally came to the feeder while I was out there. Look way up at the top to see the frog. Hummingbird flying in from the right.

Frog and two hummers this morning. One hummer is on the feeder at the right, the other flying at the left.

And then these were taken the first week I moved in, through the (dirty) kitchen window and screen since the hummers weren't yet comfortable with me. There has been a lot of activity and hummingbird drama at the feeder. Pretty sure there's a hummingbird nest wedged in the elbow of one of my gutter downspouts.
Flying Hummy

Shark Attack ala Jaws (look below)

Drama at the Feeder
Thank you, thank you, friends and family who have helped (and will be helping) in this move! I have the bestest peeps ever. And it's nice to be back in my family's home county (well, one of them) - family to help in so many ways, one of them being keeping an eye out for me and mine (as in, my daughter was foiled from buying beer at the Sheetz because a cousin was there. She then went to the grocery story but I was there. She's of age and can make her own choices, but it's kind of nice to know that I'll hear about things....). 

Thank you Henry and Nancy, Otis, LaBron, Teryn, Randi, Tanya, Dave, and Jamie!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Pardon the Interruption

Please pardon the interruption in blog posts. Okay, and honestly, it's not like I do one a week anyway. Or one a month. Although that is the goal in my head. In my head I do one a month and am working toward one a week. In my head.

In reality, my full time paid gig is not as a writer (ah, to dream!). And although my heart aches daily at leaving my newly started MG hanging, I have a family and life and all the stuff that goes with it, as do most of us. I switched schools mid-year and there has been an adjustment period, my family has needed me more (which is fine), and now I am buying a home and moving as well as wrapping up the school year. If you are teacher, you know what that last thingy means.

Yes, they are all excuses. But still, please pardon the interruption in blog posts.

Because now all I can think about is moving into my cute new house! A little less than 3 weeks to go. I have discovered the addiction of pinning ALL THE THINGS to a new Pinterest board.

And the crazy-making of tying up all the loose ends of utilities, movers, loan & legal stuff.

I can't wait to get in there and get settled.

And after that? Look out. Because I'm pounding in the hours all summer working on that MG! 

I will ignore the laundry and the dust bunnies, eat frozen pizzas and peanut m & ms all summer if I have to (oh darn) and even not let myself be sidetracked by my usual activism. I'm going to get that first draft D.O.N.E. And maybe even a revision round. And people, the premise is GOOD. Really, really GOOD. I'll leave you hanging. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Poetry Break, Fantasy vs Reality

I'm a few days late for National Poetry Month. But poetry endures.

It doesn’t matter now.
It never really mattered anyway.

It was a fantasy.
A ten year fantasy
in which I struggled to be
and you steadfastly held us to
always separating your worlds
so they wouldn’t
always carefully replacing me in my own
little velvet box
and gently closing the deep, quiet lid
when you left
so that you didn’t hear me and
I didn’t intrude in your
daily life,
bleed into your friends,
spill into your family,
erupt unbidden into your thoughts
at work.

And I breathed life incessantly into
my fantasy
that your heart held me as
mine held you,
and convinced myself that I was okay with
fantasy instead of reality,
that because I enjoyed you,
I enjoyed the fantasy.
My reality was fearful
and you were safe. 

CPR for an imaginary world.

would have our lives
making me
integral to your daily life
and you to mine –
not limited to flurried intersections
of escape from
wiping faces, folding laundry, and
trips to the grocery store when the milk
runs out,
but fastened to them.

Somehow the fantasy has gasped its last
and now
it is nakedly clear
that it never really mattered.


that what mattered in the end
I learned the difference between
fantasy and reality,
that you can’t force yourself
into another’s reality.
I learned to trust myself,
learned that fantasy
- no matter how seductively wonderful -
in the end
is no more than
smoke and mirrors
that disappear
when the lights come on.

- Kara Stewart, 2008

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Heart of It: Creating Children's Books That Matter

The Heart of It: Creating Children's Books That Matter

I am excited to be participating in this course by the fabulous award-winning artist and author, Maya Gonzalez and School of the Free Mindwhose motto is "Children's Books, Peace, and Radical Self-Love. How can you go wrong with that?

Every year, the class has a different focus; this year's focus is Native American children's literature. In that capacity, I'll also be contributing to the course by Skyping in as a special guest along with Debbie Reese, Carole Lindstrom, and Cynthia Leitich Smith. For more information on the amazing company I'll be in, go to the course listing, scroll down and click on Special Guests.  

*still pinching myself*

The course runs April 18 - May 29. 

It will be a wonderful experience. Please join us!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Awesome Day With a FanGirl Moment

Today was a big day.

Son (minus wisdom teeth) headed back to college (go Appalachian State!).

I found out my picture book manuscript, Lois Dreamed, based on my great aunt who was a ground breaker for women for her time and for our Sappony people, won 1st place in the Genre Short Story category at the North Carolina United Tribes Unity Conference Writing Competition. What a great feeling and thank you so much, writing competition judges and coordinators!

Aaaaaand, I got to hear fabulous author Matt de la Peña, most recently of Last Stop on Market Street fame (which now has a Caldecott and a Newbury)!

Despite clearly being an overachiever, Matt was funny and real. Just real. He spoke about being mixed race (Mexican and white) and how that has played into his writing and his life and relationships. He spoke about race and the complexity of family and the larger impact that has on youth and adults. I had a #fangirl moment and had my picture taken after he signed my book. And yes, that's an awfully big purse I have. I probably could have fit all the reception snacks into it. Not like I did or anything. *walks away nonchalantly

Awesome day.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Writing About Native Americans

Today's post is lengthy. I created it first not as a blog post, but as an addition to the online MG writing course I am currently taking through the Children's Book Academy. I noticed that a number of writers in the course with me had some form of American Indian content in their books or planned books. To address that, I wrote the following guest post, which I hope will be sent out with the other course materials. I'd love it if Mira Reisberg would use it as a part of all of her courses going forward. She has a wonderful opportunity to educate writers on diversity as part of their craft education. I would also love it if agents and editors would seriously consider these points when evaluating manuscripts.

(And in other Indian news this weekend, the Carolina Indian Circle Powwow).

Writing About Native Americans
by Kara Stewart

By way of introduction, I am Kara Stewart. I am an enrolled member of the Sappony tribe, one of the eight state-recognized American Indian tribes in North Carolina. Tribes can be federally recognized or state-recognized. There are 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, located in North Carolina, being one of them and included in the count of North Carolina’s eight tribes.

I have been a Reading Specialist and Literacy Coach in the public schools (elementary level) for 18 years. I am currently serving my 4th term on the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education. Although I am not currently serving on the Sappony Tribal Council, I have served 3 terms previously and plan to again. I am involved in our tribal activities and events, as well as Native efforts at the state level.

I’d like to give you some thoughts and suggestions for writing to and about American Indians. Tara Houska, Couchiching First Nation, attorney and Indian Country Today Media Network columnist, who has been in recent news, says that 87% of American Indian content in schools today is pre-1900s. She doesn’t just mean textbooks.

Here are some images you may have seen of American Indians. They have become so ingrained in American culture, that most non-Natives don't give them a second thought.


 Some more statistics:
     At 16.93%, the suicide rate for American Indians/Alaska Natives of all ages was much higher than the overall U.S. rate of 12.08. Suicide was the eighth leading cause of death for American Indians/Alaska Natives of all ages and the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10–24 (2013 CDC statistics for period 1999-2011).  **I have actually seen higher numbers in more recent years, particularly among youth.
     The reported rate of binge alcohol use over the past month was higher among AI/AN adults than the national average (30.6 percent vs. 24.5 percent) (Aspen Institute, Center for Native American Youth).
     Federal government studies have consistently shown that American Indian women experience much higher levels of sexual violence than other women in the U.S. Data gathered by the U.S. Department of Justice indicates that Native American and Alaskan Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the USA in general (5 vs. 2 per 1,000).  (Steven W Perry, American Indians and Crime- A BJS Statistical Profile 1992-2002, Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, December 2004.)   

Here are just a few of hundreds of images from books:

 And lest you think this is all in the past*:


*For more about cultural appropriation and Natives, please familiarize yourself with the fabulous Dr. Adrienne Keene’s blog, Native Appropriations

I am not saying by any means that books are to blame for the crazy high Native suicide rates, crazy high assault rates on Native women or addiction problems. Generational trauma, genocide, poverty, institutionalized racism - these all contribute. But a thread that holds all these together with literature is identity. Identity (along with institutionalized racism) is at the heart of these issues. Books contribute to identity. Books are these images in words. Let me say that again. Books are these images in words.

Children’s literature is one area where we, as writers, parents and educators, CAN make a difference to Indian children (and ALL children). Books are a HUGE part of school from whole class instruction and read alouds to guided reading book sets and media center choices. We can learn to write, purchase and read books that are accurate and authentic about Indian people instead of those that promote the stereotypes we just saw.

The images I just showed you are blatant stereotypes. I know you would recognize that you do a disservice to Indian children (and all children) by textualizing these blatant inaccuracies. But if you are a non-Native writer, would you recognize inaccuracies if you think you have done your due diligence, have researched your Native subject for years and spoken to some members of the tribe you write about? Or even know them in real life?

Consider Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose. It has been highly acclaimed. But what happens when we actually look at it from a Native perspective? Debbie Reese, of American Indians in Children’s Literature, has reviewed it.

If you are non-Native, I’d like to give you some resources and suggestions for writing about American Indians. First, it is not enough to research the tribe and the history you intend to write about. Certainly, you need to ground your writing in a particular tribe and a particular time period - and when you consider Tara Houska’s statistic on how little contemporary Native cultures are portrayed, I’m assuming you will decide you should probably write about a tribe set in the contemporary world since there is already an overabundance of historical (and inaccurate historical) writing about Indians and you would be contributing to the identity issues in living, breathing Indian children by writing yet another historical book about Indians (an exception might be something along the lines of if you are a Native writer and know details about an event in your tribe’s history that need to be told and your tribe wants them told).

So researching is certainly part of it. But it is not enough. If you are not Native, you may not be familiar with the thriving world of Indian Country today. Make yourself familiar with it. If you are not a member of the tribe you intend to write about, you need to find a way to immerse yourself in their culture. This could be tricky if you don’t know them. But it needs to be done. You need to tell them who you are, why and what you intend to write about them. Do not expect them to welcome you with open arms. You need to learn all you can from them. And you need to respect what they say. Even if you have one Native character in your book, that character needs to be presented accurately.

I have written two picture books, one of which won the 2014 Lee & Low New Voices Honor Award, both about various aspects of my tribe. Even as an enrolled tribal member, I never would have dreamed of writing them or seeking publication if I had not gotten approval by the tribal council, and equally as important, approval of the people or representations of the people in the stories. As a writer, I owe it to the people I represent to show them my final (not first draft) intention with my story and ask them if this body of work represents them in the way they want to be shown. Not one person. Not two people. Not just an Indian friend, who may or may not be clued in to the larger issues in Native America today. Ask the people themselves, “Are you comfortable being represented this way?”

And if they have suggestions or objections - I listen. I change my story. I owe this to the people I will be making money off by the sale of my work, little as the money may be. I do not deny or claim that my research showed me otherwise. I change my work. You do know that much of ‘history’ that you research is not accurate, right? You do know who writes history, right? The victors. So the Native voice of what we know happened in history has not, in most cases, been recorded. When you Google or go to the library or any of the standard research tools we use today, you must be aware that these are the Eurocentric versions of history.

One way to combat that is to go to the tribe’s official website. But even here, be careful. Indian politics is very tricky to navigate. There are official websites of official tribes, and then there are ‘wannabee’ tribes (not state or federally recognized) that pop up and have websites and misleading information.

Let me give you a list of resources to start with:

Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature is amazing. If you want to see what kinds of things are offensive from a Native perspective in children’s writing, you can read any of her reviews. She also has fabulous articles listed down the right sidebar. I wrote an article for her years ago that is still linked there, Children’s Books About Thanksgiving. A very valuable resource to writers, agents and editors is her article, Dear Writers and Editors: Some Cautions About Selecting Beta Readers. That article is PACKED with resources for how to double check your manuscript for accuracy. Debbie, a renowned expert in the field, is also available to give feedback and critique on your manuscript. Her fee will be well worth it, I assure you. She is honest, knowledgeable and thoughtful in what she says. She tells it like it is.

As part of the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education, and Chair of the Culturally Responsive Instruction Committee, we have come up with these Culturally Responsive Instructional Resources, which are helpful to writers as well as educators. If you look down the orange left side-bar, you will see Text Resources. You may want to read the books on the Recommended list as well as the Non-Recommended list to get a feel for why they are on the list they are on. Another helpful resource under Text Resources is the Criteria From How To Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children’s Books for Anti-Indian Bias (adapted from Although intended for analysis of published text for bias, it would be an excellent tool for writers to learn to use to analyze their own writing for bias.

A third resource I recommend, Indian 101 for Writers, is something I wrote a few years ago explicitly for writers in collaboration with my author pal, Alison DeLuca. We wrote this because there seemed to be no other resource like this to address writers who are thinking of writing about Native Americans. It is a 5-part traveling blog series (between my blog at the time and her blog), in interview format. There are many, many links and resources in it. If you take the time to read through them, it should give you a better idea of what is involved in presenting Native people accurately. The first post opens with many links to articles about white privilege and institutionalized racism. The following posts deal more specifically with Native content.

Another great resource is author Cynthia Leitich Smith's (Muscogee) blog post, Writing, Tonto and The Wise-Cracking Minority Sidekick Who Is Always the First to Die. She has listed out specifics for authors who wish to write cross-culturally about Native people.

And lastly, but perhaps most importantly for non-Native writers, ask yourself, “Why do I want to write about Native people?”  What is it about us that you think is important enough to step outside of your culture to write about - especially knowing the loaded history and contemporary issues with our people? Is there a story you could tell about your own culture that would be equally compelling? Are you perhaps looking for a hook for your audience? Do you just feel an affinity for Indian people or have always found us fascinating? If so, is there a way to better serve, such as volunteering or working with Native authors? 

I know why I write about my people. I have Navajo and Dine friends, Lumbee, Cherokee and Choctaw friends and more. And we hang. And I love them. But would I feel comfortable writing about their culture? No. I would not. I would be very out of my element. And their culture is not mine for the taking. Food for thought.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

On Obligation and Percy

After a few months of getting into the groove in my new day job (reading teacher at a new school), and several family issues, here I am at o'dark thirty on a Saturday morning before spending the morning at the car dealership having maintenance done on my 2004 van with 203,000+ miles on it, finally writing a post in 2016.

Through all the craziness of the last few months, I have submitted my second picture book manuscript to a number of very (too?) carefully picked agents. I've gotten some rejections, but that hasn't deterred me. I am determined, if nothing else. Perseverance is my middle name. Just call me Percy. Which is a character trait I share with my great Aunt Lois, the main character of my second picture book, Lois Dreamed. This narrative non-fiction biography picture book brings to light several very telling family stories that illustrate Aunt Lois's tenacity which led her to be a ground breaker for her time and for her people, my people, the Sappony.

I've also re-opened a discussion with an editor on my first picture book, Talent, the 2014 Lee & Low New Voices Honor Award winner. Talent is a contemporary story with a STEM foundation of a Sappony girl at our annual youth camp. There is no telling what will happen with that discussion, but again, Percy.

What makes me Percy when it would be so much easier to just can the whole writing thing or just write for my own pleasure rather than continue to work and fight to be published?

Obligation. I heavily feel an obligation to do everything I can to add to the number of books BY indigenous people that are published each year. For more on that you can read Paula Lee's Salon article in which I was quoted (minor correction is that I'm more of a pb/MG and down-the-road maybe YA writer), You can also read Paula Lee's article that started #weneedindigenouswriters. Or you can look at the disparity in numbers of books published BY vs. ABOUT American Indians/First Nations people from the CCBC which points out that of the few children's books that feature Native people, most are not written by Native people, which unfortunately means that a majority of them pass on stereotypes and inaccuracies about Native people. Ellen Oh's brave, well spoken and thoughtful post about that (which my only caveat would be that it is not just white writers) as well as Stacey Lee's spot-on Dear Non-Asian Writer article and numerous reviews on Debbie Reese's American Indians in  Children's Literature blog where Debbie thoughtfully details cultural problems with many books written about Natives by non-Natives, all point out why that obligation exists.

Obligation. I don't know any white writers who feel an obligation to have their stories published so that white people will be finally accurately represented. But that layer of heaviness, that obligation does live in non-white writers. Sure, I am also a lover of great books, a voracious reader, a word nerd and writing is my creative outlet of choice. Absolutely. But the heaviness of obligation . . .

Just because the craziness of the past few months wasn't enough, I'm adding to it by taking a month long MG course to learn all I can about writing successfully for that audience while I begin my first MG novel. It starts next Monday, and during that month, both of my children will be having minor surgeries.

I don't know how I'll do it, but I'll do it. Percy.

I'm excited about the course and excited to dive into MG! I'm also very excited to be submitting my two picture books and trying to get a great agent fit.

Here's to 2016!