Interview with Award-Winning Author Janice Spina

Award-winning multi-genre author, Janice Spina

Award-winning multi-genre author, Janice Spina

Today I’m happy to bring you author Janice Spina, who writes children’s books and thrillers. I had the pleasure of meeting Janice through Chris, The Story Reading Ape’s Blog.

Janice is the award-winning author of five children’s picture books, illustrated by her husband, John Spina. Her most recent book is her first novel and mystery/crime/thriller, “Hunting Mariah.” But let’s talk about one of her picture books that I shared with one of my younger reading pals, J.C.

About “Ricky, the Rambunctious Raccoon” Janice Spina

“Ricky is a rambunctious or very active raccoon who likes to wander around to find something new to eat. One night during his foraging for food, Ricky runs into all kinds of trouble. Will Ricky get home safely? Will he learn his lesson to listen to his mother?”

My review:

I think the words of five-year-old J.C. say it best: “Read it again!” Janice Spina’s “Ricky the Rambunctious Raccoon” tells a lovely story in rhyme while gently teaching a lesson about rules. The illustrations are perfect with the story, thanks to the other half of the Spina duo, husband John. The Spinas obviously understand what will interest children, how long the story should be, and how to create suspense without scaring young minds. I look forward to sharing more of the Spinas’ children’s books with the little ones and hearing them say, “Read it again” each time.

Our interview:

Q:  What inspired you to begin writing books?

A:  My children inspired me to write a children’s story when at bedtime they wanted more than the stories I read to them. I decided to do something different with them and wrote my first children’s story. This story has not been published as yet.

Q:  What gave you the courage to publish your writing?

Hunting Mariah on AmazonA:  I have always dreamed of being an author. About two years ago, while on vacation in Aruba, I met a lovely lady, the daughter of a fellow vacationer. She is a talented illustrator and artist. I mentioned to her that I had written several children’s stories and four novels. She sat me down, and we talked for over an hour about what and how I should get myself out there and publish my work. She was an inspiration to me. Her name is Ara Atkinson-Skinner, and without her guidance I may not have forged ahead.

Q:  I know you’ve written both children’s books, and also books for adults. Which book is your favorite and why?

A:  I enjoy them both. Children’s books are quicker and easier to write in rhyme. My husband has the difficult part illustrating them. God bless him! Writing a novel is pure joy because I let my fingers do their thing. They fly across the keys as the words seem to flow, and the characters create themselves. I really get into my zone. It can be a little creepy at times when they tell me what they want to say. Ha!

Q:  What was your favorite part about writing your books?

A:  My favorite part about writing is to create characters and a storyline with twists and turns and surprises even for me.

Q:  What is it like working with an illustrator who is also your husband?

A:  It can be daunting at times. But we always come to a consensus on each page. Some pages take longer than others unfortunately. He is a joy to work with and is a perfectionist as am I. He has a quirky sense of humor and keeps things light when they get tense.

Q:  What would you most like to leave readers thinking?

A:  What else is she going to come up with? I like to keep people guessing and surprised at the stories I can write. There are many more just waiting to be written down. Even I am surprised when I write a new story. I never know how it will end until the end. Ha ha.

Q:  In six words or less, what is your advice for aspiring authors?

A:  Write, edit, write, and edit again.

Q:  What is next on the horizon for you?

A:  I have three novels in draft form which will keep me busy through next year. Of course, there is always something in between to do like copy editing other authors’ books, writing book reviews, blogging, and using social media to promote my books. I love doing it all! I promised to write a children’s story for another little boy I met in Aruba. But first I am going to write a middle school series for my grandsons, Jason and Joey. My husband is working on my newest book about a moose, which we hope to have ready before Christmas. Another story is ready for his talents, and several more titles are waiting in the wings. I always have a title long before a story.

Q. Wow, you sure are busy! Anything else you’d like to share?

A:  May I take just a minute more to thank anyone who purchases my books and leaves a review on Amazon or other sites where they purchase books? We authors love to hear from our fans. Feel free to contact me on my links and chat. Blessings all! I just want to thank you, Valerie, for having me on your blog. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with you and your readers.

Well thank you, Janice, for stopping by and for sharing your time with us. If anyone would like to find out more about Janice, please visit her website at, follow her blog at, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, and Goodreads. You can also ask your questions by leaving a comment here.

Lessons from a Humble Warrior

George Ormond, 1917, a proud member of "New York's Division"

George Ormond, 1917, a proud member of “New York’s Division”

In honor of Veterans Day – a story about my grandfather.

George Ormond’s pale blue eyes watered until the day he died. But he never complained about the Great War. Word was that mustard gas got him, but in those days, people didn’t talk much about injuries, follow-on treatment, or post-traumatic stress. My grandfather died when I was 21, about the same age he was when returning from the war. I wish I’d had adult conversations with him about his experiences, but it’s obviously too late. He likely didn’t realize how interested people might be in a blue-collar kid from Brooklyn’s renditions of his encounters on the front lines.

One of my earliest memories of my grandfather taught me a valuable lesson. I was five-years-old, in my front yard, and he watched me kill a bug.

“Why did you do that?” he asked.

“Because it was going to bite me,” I answered.

“But it wasn’t bothering you.”

And I realized he was right. I felt so ashamed, but I learned from his short training session. This war-hardened man taught me in a few sentences to be sensitive to each life.

Private Ormond spent his 18th, 19th, and 20th years in the U.S. Army’s 27th Division – New York’s Division. From 1917 through 1919, he trained in the U.S., deployed to the Western Front, and returned to his city’s heroic homecoming for the troops. As a child, I understood my grandfather had been in World War I. But as a child of 7, 8, and 9 years old, I didn’t realize the old man in front of me wasn’t much older than I was when he told the stories of places so far away about a time seeming to be so long ago.

I remember hearing about trenches, and how his unit even had gas masks for the horses. My grandfather didn’t try to scare me, but I think he wanted to share a part of the family history not recorded elsewhere. But I didn’t understand the importance of listening to those stories at the time.

Before the war...donning the gas mask for a photo opportunity

Before the war…donning the gas mask for a photo opportunity

My grandfather was a bit of a conundrum. At one moment, he’d be my jovial “Pop Pop,” smiling, arms outstretched, waiting for a hug, and in the next, a grumpy old man seemingly annoyed by my childish noise. He loved my grandmother, who was the yin to his yang. As somber and unhappy as he seemed most the time, she swung to the opposite side of the pendulum. She joked, played games with my brother and I, and let us turn the couches upside down to build indoor forts. Even as kids, we wondered how these two very different people ended up together.

The two of them raised two sons, the first members in either family to attend and graduate from college. My father served as a U.S. Navy surface warfare officer, and my uncle a navy pilot.

My dad used to say, “My father was born before the Wright brothers flew the first plane, and in his lifetime he got to see his own son fly off aircraft carriers.”

My grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with both sons and their families, including their six grandchildren. I’m not sure I’d ever seen my grandfather happier. Just three years later, my fun-loving grandmother passed away. Pop Pop deteriorated quickly, and was laid to rest by her side seven months later. Sadly, he never got to see two of his grandchildren carry on the military family tradition. My cousin, Mark, spent a career as a navy diver, and I, as a naval intelligence officer. I had the honor of being the first female Ormond to wear the uniform.

Following my navy retirement, I finally researched my grandfather’s war history. The 27th Division to which he belonged included a brave band of New Yorkers who fought in fierce battles including the Somme Offensive. President Woodrow Wilson federalized this New York National Guard unit in July 1917, and Major General John F. O’Ryan commanded “O’Ryan’s Roughnecks” throughout the war. His men loved him, and his enlisted men voted on the unit patch, which included stars of the constellation Orion’s Belt, in honor of their leader. I remember my grandfather pointing out Orion’s Belt in the night sky, and it became the first constellation I could identify. Pop Pop never shared the connection with his commander and the stars, but it was our one and only astronomy lesson in our 21 years together. That time and those stars now hold an even more special meaning to me.

Assigned to F Battery, 104th Field Artillery, Private Ormond saw action in the infamous “no man’s land,” Verdun, the St. Mihiel Offensive, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. According to O’Ryan, “The Verdun sector had been the scene of very severe fighting and the word ‘La Meuse’ connoted to the French soldier the most desperate fighting, the most terrible suffering, and the most hotly contested area of the war.”

“The Meuse-Argonne Offensive is considered an epic battle which essentially ended World War I,” wrote Pamela A. Bakker, author of “The 104th Field Artillery Regiment of the New York National Guard, 1916 – 1919, From the Mexican Border to the Meuse-Argonne.” Bakker stated it was the bloodiest battle in which the U.S. engaged, resulting in 95,786 wounded and 26,277 dead.

“The citations pertaining to the 104th Field Artillery Regiment, as well as those for the entire 52nd Field Artillery Brigade, almost always have the repeated phrase ‘while under heavy enemy shell fire,’ with many adding ‘under machine gun fire, and gas concentrations,’” Bakker continued. Private Ormond’s unit also was attached to the most gassed division among the Americans, which may explain the eyes that teared for the following sixty years. He never mentioned the hunger, the sleeplessness, the lice, the filth, the mud, the cold, or the dysentery common among the men. He also never mentioned the unending fighting, the injuries, or the deaths, which surely he had not forgotten. Instead, he spoke of pride of having served.

The Rockaway Medal of Honor - one of the few artifacts from George Ormond's World War I service

The Rockaway Medal of Honor – one of the few artifacts from George Ormond’s World War I service

George Ormond instilled in his family a sense of service to country. His two children served, and two of his grandchildren served. My grandfather taught me lessons while he was alive, starting with respect for each life. Learning more about his history, I learned new lessons about his humility regarding his own wartime service. Although I will never see what the mysterious war hero’s injured eyes saw, I learned a great deal from him. I appreciate who he was, what he did, and the courage he displayed both on the battlefield and throughout his life.

Published in “All Gave Some,” Military Writers Society of America 2014 Anthology (Red Engine Press ISBN 978-1-937958-75-6)


Military Writers Society of America Conference – Phoenix

Welcome to Guest Blogger and Author, Michael Wood

I recently met Michael Wood at the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) conference in Phoenix. After seeing how well he captured the essence of the conference in words and photos, I asked if he’d be willing to share with this blog’s readers. So please welcome fellow Navy veteran Mike over from his Travel Photo Escapades blog, and enjoy this virtual visit to the 2014 MWSA conference.

 This is my first year attending one of these MWSA conferences.

MWSA founder, Bill, addresses the group on open microphone night.

I had no idea what to expect. I previously wrote about our MWSA trip to the Phoenix VA Hospital and what a great experience that was. I am now going to try and explain my experience with this group of mostly baby boomer highly dedicated people without boring you with the details of a conference. That is a big task!

Ron Moses Camarda reading an excerpt from his  book "Tear In The Desert" and breaking into song!


Let me just start off with saying that we had the standard series of speakers and lectures that you would expect with a writer’s group. I do not mean to diminish any of the speakers or lectures topic matter for writers. I would like to explain though that this group of people that do write books both traditionally published and are independent publishing folks are all highly dedicated people that hope to make some money on their hard work but really realize that publishing a book is more a labor of love than of income potential.

Joyce Faulkner, Jack London, Dwight Zimmerman and MariaEdwards with Anthology Book plaques.


We have folks in this group that have famous names such as Faulkner and London and we have some folks that have number 1 best sellers on the New York Times best seller list as ghost writers for Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Lincoln Book”. What has come abundantly apparent is that none of these folks really do this hard core writing for the money but more a labor of love because even the Best Seller’s List folks are not really making gobs of money.

We have had lectures from experts on all the topics of writing but it was not until tonight when we had

Betsy Beard, VP, keeps the program going on open microphone night.

some of them give readings that I realized how much of their heart and soul are wrapped up into what they are writing about. Every author that read excerpts from their book elicited some sort of strong emotions from the audience as they read. It was so moving at one time with the emotional experience that we had to call in comic relief to liven things up. Keep in mind 99% of the folks in this group are all former military and there are all kinds of stories from PTSD causing plane crashes, to rescues that failed or were successful, to mascot dogs serving on a Navy ship. There was one author that is not former military but has gained such trust within the military community that he has written numerous stories about Medal of Honor recipients and Special Operations Forces. He is also the New York Times best seller author the President Dwight Zimmerman. Many of them are fiction novel writers and their stories are incredible. I am biased by the one guys pilot story that involves Navy SEALs.

President Dwight Zimmerman introduces a 92 year ol Veteran from the Phoenix VA to the members.

Here is what I can tell you! This is one of the best group of dedicated people to their craft that I have ever met and they are all supportive of helping their fellow author whether new or established. A Jack London descendent, Jack W. London was a very helpful speaker presenting fiction, establishing  characters, story lines and motivations to help the reading audience to invest in the story.

The majority of folks were Baby Boomers with a few under the age of 50 years old but you would never know they were baby boomers by their performance during karaoke night where we had singers, comics, fiction readers and non-fiction readers as well as poets and memoir readers.

It was an incredible experience and I plan to return next year to Phoenix during this same time frame.

Here is a link to their MWSA web site in case anyone is interested in joining a writers group.

Thank you, Mike! Valerie

Jim Greenwald watches over the mystery boxes to be auctioned off. He is organizations man behind the scenes keeping the conference going. An unsung hero!

Jim Tritten reading excerpts from his very moving book.

Don Henlin talking about writing compelling and believable villains.

Joanne Quinn-Smith previously presented about branding and marketing but now is leading the group in song on open microphone night.

Auctioneer motivates the crowd to bid Bucaroo bucks for the book.



comments on “Military Writers Society of America Conference – Phoenix”

    1. Mike, great blog! I almost feel like I was there….oh wait, I was.

      It was great to meet you. My first year as well, and I will be back as I loved the people in MWSA.

      One question went unanswered: does MWSA stand for “Magnificent Writers Seeking Alcohol?” Neal

    1. Fantabulous Mike!

      Meeting you on the shuttle from the airplane was a stroke of wonderful luck and blessing! Your blog helps us to feel great.

      I only have gratitude for spending time with you.

      Sharing “Seal” stories was a real plus.


    1. Nice job Mike. I look forward to your expert technical assistance on my second mystery – involving Navy SEALs. :-{)

      As for MWSA, it was great to get to know those who were in Phoenix. You all welcomed Jasmine and me like we were family.



Learning Something New Every Day

Being Secretary of the Maryland Horse Council is not always that secretarial. Take for instance, this past weekend’s Maryland Horse Council Annual Barbeque, when I had the opportunity to play polo on the Maryland Horse Council Executive Committee’s team.

Valerie Ormond (left), Grace Fulton (center), and Jaime Navarro (right). Photo by Sue O'Donnell.

Valerie Ormond (left), Grace Fulton (center), and Jaime Navarro (right). Photos and videos by Sue O’Donnell.

Capitol Polo Club graciously provided us the horses, mallets, and brief instruction, so we could provide half-time entertainment in the form of a “celebrity” polo match. Yes, it was a test of my nerves to hop on the most expensive horse I’d ever sat on, ride left-handed, swing a mallet, not get hit, and not fall off in front of 200 spectators. I think the visuals tell a better story.

First, getting acquainted with the pony (um…not a pony at all, a horse) and instructions on the appropriate use of the mallet.

Getting instruction

Jessica from Capitol Polo Club helping with the Argentine polo pony, Sondra, and the mallet.

A very brief practice session with a member of the opposing team in black. And yes, that also happens to be my husband, Jaime Navarro. He was a natural and scored the first goal.

Then to the action.

Team Maryland Horse Trials @ Loch Moy (in black) triumphed over Team State Farm Insurance (in white) in a 2-0 victory. A big thank you to our team sponsors Carolyn MacIntosh and Dale Clabaugh!

The teams in the field

From left: “Celebrity” players Grace Fulton, Jaime Navarro, Guillermo Warley, Dave Taylor, Steuart Pittman, Dr. Peter Radue (DVM), Valerie Ormond, and Stephen Fulton.

It was all in good fun, and goes to show we all can learn something new every day.

The End

The End.

Suggested Editing Websites, Blogs, and Resources

Here is a list of editing resources that I hope may be useful to others.

AP Stylebook Blog

(Search query handy for quick reference)

Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab [Read more…]

Inspirational Young Horse Saver

I reconnected with a childhood friend recently whose daughter, Nicole, volunteers with Freedom Hill Horse Rescue. My friend mentioned Nicole was preparing her end-of-year book report and diorama on my book, “Believing In Horses.” When I saw her diorama and read her report, I found it so touching that I wanted to share them with others. In times when children are often criticized for being self-centered and lazy, I’m happy to highlight one who is not.

So, from my youngest contributor to this blog, I bring you 10-year-old Nicole Cavanaugh, an inspirational young horse saver.

Nicole Cavanaugh's diorama for Believing In Horses

In this scene from “Believing in Horses” Sadie is going to Freedom Hill Horse Rescue for the first time. Sadie is visiting Freedom Hill to sign up as a volunteer and to show them her presentation about the horses that need to be saved. She is hoping they will help her save the horses that are going to be auctioned. This is an important moment for Sadie because this is the first time she asks for help to achieve her goal. (Nicole Cavanaugh)


The Navarros are moving to Bowie, Maryland, because Sadie’s Dad is in the military and is being reassigned for a few years. One of those years he will be in Afghanistan, which makes Sadie sad. Her reward for being so good about the situation is a horse. Sadie’s grandmother sends Sadie a horse. His name is Color Me Lucky but they call him Lucky. One day Sadie learned about 10 horses that needed to be saved because they were going to auction. Many horses that go to auction are killed for meat. Sadie decided she [Read more…]