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Author Spotlight, Billie Holladay Skelley

I’m excited to share this special Author Spotlight with you today. My friend, Billie Holladay Skelley is a talented author who is just about the sweetest person you’d ever want to meet. I adore her, and I thought you might like to learn a little more about her.

We’re having a joint Chicken Soup for the Soul book signing at Always Buying Books on November 9, 2019 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Always Buying Books is located at 5357 North Main Street in Joplin, Missouri. We’d love to see you there!

Q. What kinds of writing do you enjoy? What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

I enjoy the creativity the writing craft permits. I have written eight books for children, ranging from picture books through young adult, but I also enjoy writing articles, stories, essays and poetry for adults. Writing allows you to challenge yourself with different styles and disciplines. I like the challenge, and I enjoy the writing process simply because I love words. For me, finding the right word or phrase is like solving a puzzle, and there is a certain satisfaction in solving a puzzle. I have always marveled how words can be precise and powerful tools. They can inform or mislead, and they can harm or heal. Words can stimulate the imagination, and they can stir hearts to action. Words have power, and writing allows you to share that power. When you are writing and you find the right words, it truly feels great, and when you can incorporate that specific wording perfectly into your work, it is wonderful. If what you write actually connects with another person, it is pretty phenomenal.

Q. When did you start writing?

I think I have been writing all my life—as far back as I can remember—not for publication, but just for pleasure. In graduate school, my thesis for my master’s degree was published in a nursing journal, and that really was my first exposure to the “big” publishing world. I think if that first experience is a positive one, many people want more, and I did. I ended up writing several health-related articles.

Q. To what or whom do your attribute your love of reading and writing stories?

My grandfather’s father died when he was in third grade. At that time, he had to leave school and get a job to support his family. He started working as a child, and continued working for the rest of his life, but he loved to read. He collected books, and some of my earliest memories are seeing him with a book in his hand. He only had a third-grade education, but he was one of the smartest people I have ever known. He told me books have magic in them, and I believed him before I knew it was true myself. He said if you have a book, you have the key to open a new world, and he was right. As I got older, I enjoyed the escape books offered and how they could transport you to another time and place.

Q. What are some jobs that you have held? How have your past experiences impacted your writing?

Formerly, I have worked as a nursing aide in a nursing home, a registered nurse in a hospital, a clinical nurse specialist in a cardiovascular and thoracic surgery ICU, and as a nursing educator in a college. Since my background is in healthcare, the topics I write about frequently relate to health issues or medical concerns. My previous nursing experiences often resurface in my writing—from articles about the polio vaccine and drug abuse to heart transplants and mucormycosis (which occurred in Joplin after the 2011 tornado).

Q. What inspires you?

In my “service dogs” books, my inspiration came from the therapy dogs themselves, the amazing work they do, and from the people who train them. For Hugh Armstrong Robinson: The Story of Flying Lucky 13 and my other biographical books, Ruth Law: The Queen of the Air and Luella Agnes Owen: Going Where No Lady Had Gone Before, the actual people and their remarkable stories were my inspiration. All of these individuals were pioneers in their fields, with incredible accomplishments, but their stories had not been widely shared with younger readers. I wanted to tell their stories and highlight their achievements so young readers could be inspired by these extraordinary people.

Q. What made you decide to write about the subjects or themes of your books?

I enjoy writing about important, but lessor known individuals who made their mark in history. There are so many books on Abraham Lincoln or Albert Einstein, for example, and that is fine, but there are also many other people who accomplished significant things, but history has either forgotten or overlooked them. Two of my children’s books, for example, are about people from Missouri who were remarkable pioneers, but most people in our state could not tell you who they were, when they lived, or what they achieved. I enjoy telling their stores because they need to be told. Their accomplishments are inspirational, and their devotion to their chosen fields is admirable. Even though they lived long ago, their trials and tribulations were similar to ones we face today, but they persevered and still achieved. I think their stories are worth noting because they can inspire and encourage others–especially children.

Q. Have you met any interesting people while researching your books? When I was researching my latest biography about Hugh Armstrong Robinson, I had the privilege of connecting with his great-granddaughter via e-mail. It was really interesting to hear her thoughts about this great pioneer. During the research for my “service dogs” books, I have also communicated with several people who train these amazing animals and with several children who actually own and rely on these dogs. It has been so rewarding to hear how grateful they are to have the books because as one editor/publisher told me: “It is important for those with service dogs to see themselves in literature.”

Q. What is the most difficult part of writing?

Finding time … without a doubt. It is just difficult with busy days and hectic schedules to find the time to sit down and write. Everyone says you need to set aside a designated time and place that is strictly devoted to your writing … and stick with it, but I find that life keeps intervening. It is just hard to find the time. When I am working on something, I usually get lost in it. I miss meetings, conversations, meals, and so forth—and there are not many days you can allow yourself that luxury. You still have to function in the real world!

Q. Who are some of your favorite authors, and why do you enjoy their work? There are several authors I enjoy, but my favorites are Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen. They are the only two I reread over and over again—mainly because they have such a way with words. Their books have an enduring “coming of age” quality that addresses timeless concerns. Even though they both write about events that took place long ago and in a different country, I have always found it easy to connect with their characters’ hopes and struggles because they have the same hopes and struggles people have today. Both Austen and Hardy uses expressive language so well, and their dialogue and descriptions have such a lyrical phrasing. Even though their dialogue and word choices are different from how we speak today, it is still easy to relate to their main characters’ problems as they try to adhere to societal norms and find their place in the social hierarchy. Just as back then, we still struggle to obtain parental and societal approval for our relationships and our choices in life. Both Hardy and Austen also describe how difficult it is to really know other people—their character, motives, and desires—and how it takes time to figure out your own being and what you really want in life. Their characters often have relationship problems, but usually if the characters have some personal growth, empathy, and better communication, the problems can be resolved. They give you some hope!

Q. What writing advice did you find most useful when you were honing your craft? I think the most useful advice I received was just to persevere. I heard so many stories from local writers, with successful writing careers, who related how initially their material was criticized, changed, or outright rejected—often numerous times. One writer, in particular, related a story to me about how he had written an article of which he was quite proud, and it was turned down by five different editors. Each editor wanted him to change something, and often the next editor wanted him to change it back to what he originally had. This writer eventually sold the story for over a thousand dollars—and it was kept in the original form he had it. I’m not implying that he wasn’t willing to make changes or listen to advice, but he was stressing that if you feel you have it right, there is often a place for it … it just may take some time to find the right place!

Q. Do you have any new work just released or coming out soon? My latest children’s book, Two Terrible Days in May: The Rader Farm Massacre, was just released in September. It pertains to history in our local area and tells about the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. The history of this unit is important because these men were the first African American soldiers to see battle during the war, the first to have soldiers die in action, and the first to fight alongside their white comrades.

I also have a personal story, “Rising from Disaster,” that was just released in Rise-An Anthology of Change, published by the Northern Colorado Writers, and I have a story called “Fruitless Communication” that was just released in Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine which is published by the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.

Thank you for reading Ozarks Maven! If you’ve enjoyed my little seeds of wisdom and joy, please subscribe to Ozarks Maven, Like Ozarks Maven on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter @OzarksMaven.

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