Thank you Ben Mikaelsen and Addie Lillard

Thank you Ben Mikaelsen and Addie Lillard

addieandben-1This past Friday, I accomplished more writing than I usually do.  I was inspired by two phenomenal people. One, an award-winning author who for 27 years gleaned valuable life lessons from a 750 lb. black bear and the other a 13-year-old who fell in love with said author’s words and courageously asked him for advice on how to follow her own literary dreams.

Having read Mr. Mikaelsen’s affecting “Touching Spirit Bear,” I was aware of the novel’s testament to the power of both pain and encouragement to propagate inner change, but unaware of the author’s tremendous passion for eradicating bullying and inspiring today’s youth with his own story of tumultuous beginnings, inspired life choices and monumental successes.

Mikaelsen travels the globe sharing his personal story with students. I attended his presentation at Polytechnic school in Pasadena, CA, where the audience of 9-14 year olds sat riveted by his fascinating account. The author’s narrative included his bullied life as a child, his confession of becoming an angry bully himself, fulfilling his dream of becoming a pilot, the lessons he learned from raising a BEAR who knew how to curb his own strength, (yes a bear!) the unlikely discovery of his writing gifts, (thanks to a caring college professor) and his current bold choices to make each day count. Chronicling his life thus far, Mikaelsen spoke with vivid detail, urging the audience to make their own lives count.

After thanking the author for his impassioned talk and exiting the auditorium, I ran into Addie Lillard, a smart 8th grader whom I’m privileged to know thanks to a night filling in for her family’s babysitter. Addie is passionate about stories. The evening I spent at her home, she carried a book with her most of the night. She seems to put every spare moment toward the development of her imagination, immersing herself in new literary worlds every chance she gets!  I want to be this kid when I grow up!

Addie asked if I thought it would be okay for her to go back in to solicit Mikaelsen’s advice for aspiring authors. I assured her that I believed Mikaelsen would be thrilled to speak with her and thankfully was right! What followed inspired me through the next week! After I introduced her to the author, Addie eloquently asked for advice.  In that moment I too fell in love with Mikaelsen’s words. He told her to focus on feelings, to write every day, thinking about the things that move her, and to try to capture those moments because the truth of those feelings will compel the reader, regardless of the story’s plot.  She thanked him and turned to leave, but stopped to add, “By the way, that presentation was AMAZING!” As we left, Addie and I excitedly chatted about how we agreed with Mikaelsen’s focus on emotion and she seemed eager to put his advice into practice ASAP!

Ben Mikaelsen possesses a rare talent not only for writing affecting children’s literature, but for enrapturing kids with vibrant storytelling and cautionary warnings for bullies headed nowhere. “Touching the Spirit Bear” has the unique ability to speak to both the bully and the bullied. Its protagonist Cole is an angry juvenile offender, who must decide whether to allow his near fatal mauling to lead the way to humility, or become even more hardened, risking the healing of not only his own soul but the soul of an entire community.  I am beyond thrilled to inform others interested in films aiming to positively influence young minds that producer Robert Burke and “Ten-One Entertainment” has optioned “Touching the Spirit Bear” for the screen and the poignant story is currently in development!

My first stop after the event was Starbucks. Not for my high-maintenance Venti,  3-pump, Mocha with coconut milk frothy beverage, although I did enjoy one, but to fervently pursue my own dream of writing screenplays that uplift, enlighten or elicit copious laughter.  On a high from witnessing the visceral effect Mikaelsen’s books and presentation had on the students and reminded once again of the power of story to effect change, I wrote more than I had in weeks. So thank you Ben Mikaelsen and thank you Addie Lillard.

For more information about Ben Mikaelsen or Ten One Entertainment, check out  or respectively.




Awkward Moment #2 – Weddings

Awkward Moment #2 – Weddings

I left the house in plenty of time to make it to a friend’s wedding. Plenty of time that is without a traffic jam two minutes from the church. Not wanting to miss the bride’s grand entrance, I ran up the endless staircase leading to the humongous ornate cathedral only to meet the bridesmaids lined up and ready to go, with the bride not far behind. As I stepped through massive double doors and into the sanctuary’s center aisle, the processional song began and to my horror the entire congregation was on their feet staring at me.

joanna headshot purple shirt

In retrospect there were many reasonable options I could have taken. I could have sashayed up either side aisle. I could have slipped into a back pew, but neither of those options made their way into my brain. With all eyes on me, including the video camera’s (the videographer seemed to be adding me to the wedding footage) I inexplicably rushed up the length of the center aisle, heels echoing the whole way, to meet the rest of the wedding guests, who stood in the first few rows. As I finally slid into a pew, I turned around to watch the processional to find that the bridal party had been following me in and was now more than half way to the altar. Oops.

I hope my friend the bride, doesn’t mind that I decided to join the perfectly matched wedding party in my plaid coat and little black dress. I’m sure she’ll laugh about it when she watches the wedding video. Ok, maybe I’m praying that she’ll laugh. I’d do the same for her. Maybe.

Later at the reception, one would think that I would have tried to be a respectable guest and call no further attention to myself. Respectable was not in the cards for me that day.  I’m Irish and have insanely pale skin. Nicole Kidman has nothing on me, but when the DJ played a salsa, I could no longer contain my inner Latin dancer. Three minutes into the dance my flailing arm smacked the groom’s father in the face. He was not my dance partner.

Moral #1:  Be sure to arrive super early for any wedding but wear the same color as the bridesmaids just in case.

Moral #2: Don’t Drink and Dance.