Sunday, August 15, 2010

Interview with author Donna J. Shepherd

Children's author and inspirational writer, Donna J. Shepherd, looks at everyday life and finds God's fingerprints everywhere. From bird watching to the Beatitudes, Donna's writing touches the heart with wisdom and humor while feeding the mind with daily portions of God's Word.

A columnist for The Dabbling Mum, NABBW, and CWAHM, she has hundreds of articles and devotionals to her credit. Her devotions and stories appear in Daily Grace for Women, Anytime Prayers for Everyday Moms, and The Best Grandma in the World to name a few. Donna's children's books - Topsy Turvy Land, No More Gunk! & OUCH! Sunburn!, Chizzy's Topsy Tale, Dotty's Topsy Tale, Sully's Topsy Tale, Bradybug, and Poodle & Doodle feature short, playful rhymes and humorous illustrations. Future releases include a book of devotions and children's book, Salami.

Donna is also a voiceover artist and singer and founded the Greater Harvest Workshops where she and multi-published authors and speakers present insider tips and instruction. VS: Wow Donna, what a treat to have you as my guest here on The Writing Mama today. Now you have a very busy life not only writing, but singing and blogging as well. Can you share a little about what do you do to balance your family life with everything that you do?

Donna: Thank you so much for asking me! How do I find balance? First of all, I pray a lot! I’m constantly asking God for direction. There are so many things on my plate and things I want to do that I can get overwhelmed easily. Asking for heavenly guidance isn’t a chore, but a way of life.

I’m a list-maker, too. The calendar in Google and setting reminders keeps me on track. The other thing I do now, that I didn’t used to do very well, is delegate. One piece of advice for younger moms - it’s okay to ask for help and let go of perfection. I used to think that if I wanted to get something done right, I had to do it. Not anymore!

VS: I’ll have to admit, I’m one of those moms who have to do it or it won’t be done right. My hubby gives me such a hard time about it and asks what he is supposed to do if I do it all. He does have a point. Great advice Donna indeed. So what inspired you to start writing?

Donna: I was surfing the internet in January 2003 reading a magazine online. On a whim, I turned to the writer’s guidelines and saw a theme list. I wrote an article exactly 1200 words long. My daughter was my editor. I sent it in without great expectation because I didn’t know anything about rejection. It was accepted! So my first submission was my first acceptance. Now I realize how wonderful that was - especially since I’ve had my share of rejection since. VS: That is amazing. I was just as lucky with my very first submission of writing, but I know this isn’t the norm. most writers go many years before they ever see an acceptance. Well from what you said about your daughter, being your editor on that first submission I feel this next question is a bit late. However, I’ll ask it anyway. Is your family supportive of your all your projects?

Donna: Right after that first article was accepted, my husband bought me a laptop for Valentine’s Day. My kids have read everything I’ve written for children and offer a lot of advice. They’re completely honest with me, which might sting a bit now and then, but I appreciate their honesty. And usually, they’re right.

VS: Your family is starting to sound a lot like mine. I hear all the time how you should never ask family or friends for advice on writing because they will be kind. I have found that isn’t true at all with mine. I think I get more stings from them than I do my critique group. Okay, so can you tell us a bit about the first article you had published that started it all?

Donna: The article in Just Between Us was my first article for grownups. I wrote a lot of articles and devotions that first year, and soon began writing for children, too. I submitted several poems to Guideposts for Kids and they published one called “My Tooth Is Missing.”

VS: It sounds like it was a busy year for you. Of course, this year is another busy year for you as well. Can you share with us a little about your current books?

Donna: This year has been amazing. Released the first of the year, Poodle and Doodle (Guardian Angel Publishing), is about Angel, a twelve-pound prissy poodle, who is none too happy when Leah brings home Scruffy, a seventy-five pound clumsy Labradoodle. This one is based on the way my own poodle reacted when my husband brought home another dog. Jack Foster drew wonderful, funny illustrations.

The next book released this year, Sully’s Topsy Tale, completed the Topsy Tales Trilogy, which includes books about Dotty and Chizzy. All three are characters in Topsy Turvy Land (Hidden Pictures Publishing). Sully’s Topsy Tale is my favorite because the main character sings. I included musical terms in the book and got to work with Kevin Scott Collier again, the illustrator for all the Topsy books as well as a couple of others.

Just last week, Bradybug, came out. Kit Grady’s illustrations are beautiful. The book is both fact-filled and fun. A ladybug compares the words used to describe male and female animals.

VS: They all sound like wonderful books and I have really enjoyed reading all your books with my children. Of course your newest books, I have yet to read, but will be doing so soon I’m sure. Now I’m curious, what type of book promotion works for you? Any special strategies you’d like to share?

Donna: The most effective way I’ve found to promote my books are to talk about writing. I go to writers’ meetings and conferences to speak. I also founded the Greater Harvest Workshops. For our last event, I taught a workshop called The ABC’s of Children’s Writing.

VS: That’s great. I think it is so important for writers to understand there is no cookie cutter to marketing. What works for one author doesn’t always work for another. I think it is great how writer workshops and conferences help your marketing. You are one of the few I’ve heard this from. Okay, so what is the most difficult part of writing for you?

Donna: I have tons of ideas and start a lot of projects. Getting them done is the difficult part. Staying focused takes a lot of determination on my part.

VS: LOL. I understand that all too well. What is the best writing advice you ever received?

Donna: Keep passive voice at a minimum and use active voice. Most of the time, I can improve a sentence by changing a passive construction to an active one.

VS: That is so true and great advice. I can’t tell you how often as an editor I see passive voice and all it takes is reworking a few words in the sentence or deleting a word to or two to make it active. This next question may seem a bit redundant, but do you find it hard to balance your personal writing time with your other projects?

Donna: It seems like I’m always adding more. Recently I began doing voiceovers for book trailers and audio books. I’m having a ball! But my to-do list keeps getting longer. Yes, it can be a challenge to balance projects, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

VS: Isn’t that so true. I think creative minds have a hard time to saying, “Okay, I have enough on my plate. Someone else can come up with this idea and do it.” Which makes me wonder . . . can you share with us about your writing space? If it’s like my office, you must have lots of piles for projects everywhere.

Donna: I’m thankful for an office in my home with two large windows. Sadie, the doodle, and Angel, the poodle, usually lie on the floor nearby. A noisy parakeet, Lina, sings. I read some place that “pilers” are more creative than “filers.” I must be extremely creative! I have piles of books, papers, and projects everywhere, but trust me - I know where almost everything I need is. My daughter’s dog, a Boston Terrier, likes to sleep in a dog bed under my desk where she snores and snorts as only BT’s can.

VS: LOL. Yep, a lot like my office. I have one window that looks out to our backyard, but I do have the cat, who likes to lie on my keyboard, and the dog, who loves to lay at my feet. Oh yes . . . and lots of piles for each of my projects. What would we be surprised to learn about you, Donna?

Donna: You might be surprised to find that learning to play drums is on my list of things I want to do some day. It looks like so much fun!

VS: Learning a musical instrument doesn’t surprise me when it comes to you Donna, but the instrument being the drums does. I would not have guessed that at all. Is there anything else you would like to share with us about being a “Writing Mama”?

Donna: I did not start writing until my children were older, but if there’s one thing I would recommend to mamas, it would be to write every day, even if only for a few minutes. Write down the cute things the children say and do. You think you’ll remember. You won’t.

VS: That is some great advice and something I don’t do. You are right, I have forgotten many things my children have said and done. What I do remember is because we have it on tape or a photo of it. LOL. So all those writing mamas out there, you better start carrying around a notebook if you don’t already so you can jot those moments down. You never know if one of them will be the writing spark for a published book or magazine story.

Donna, I thank you for taking the time to share with me and my readers about being a writing mama. It has been a real pleasure to have you on my blog today.

Donna: I appreciate the invitation!

VS: You can find out more about Donna J. Shepherd at the following links:

Topsy Turvy Land - Blog for children:


Oodles of Fun:

Bradybug Blog:

Greater Harvest Workshops:


  1. Wow, great interview! I struggle with passive voice. I always have to pull out my grammar books and correct it, but I still have a bling eye on the passive.

    Thanks for such an encouraging and uplifting interview Virginia. Donna, you are an inspiration.

  2. Wonderful interview. I learned so many new things about Donna. I'll be sure to check out the links.

    Have a great day!

  3. Great interview Virginia and Donna. Moms need voices like your to kindle their dreams. I'm sure there are a lot of mothers who feel regret for not pursuing their passions. Great advice Donna and you are a perfect example of "It's no too late." Yay for moms!!

  4. Terrific interview. I love all the illos from your books, Donna. Congrats on your well deserved success.

    Books for Kids - Manuscript Critiques

  5. Great interview! Way to go, Donna!

  6. At the writing workshop at my house this past Saturday, we had a mommy with a 3 month old. I think it is great that moms are reaching for their dreams while having children, after the kids are older, or even when the grandkids are popping up. Of course, I'm hoping to get some writing Dads on here soon, too.

    Thanks everyone for stopping by and leaving a comment. I just love hearing from you all.

  7. Great interview, Donna. Thanks for bringing it to us Virginia. Both of you are so inspirational.

  8. You're welcome. I just wish I was able to get this up on Friday last. I was just so busy with getting my house ready for a writing workshop and taking care of the kids, it didn't work out. But I'm glad you're all enjoying finding out more about Donna. She's been a great support and inspiration to me.

  9. Virginia, that is so funny - an interview late on the Writing Mama because of kids? Of course! That makes perfect sense to me!

    I've told you privately, but I want to say publicly how much I admire you and all the writing mamas who do put their children first, but still manage to pursue the dream of writing and being published. I applaud you.

    Thank you for interviewing me. I always find it beneficial personally when I'm interviewed as it makes me stop and reflect on my journey.

    And thank you, everyone, for your kind words.

  10. Great interview, Donna and Virginia! So many fun books, such an array of talents! Some good advice offered here and appreciated.