Debra J. Slover – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS: Growing My Leadership Garden is an exquisitely illustrated and light hearted parable that empowers children, steers them toward positive patterning, and shows each child how to plant and nurture the seeds of good leadership while ridding their metaphorical gardens of the “weeds” (negative qualities that can harm children’s self-worth).

A recent Mom’s Choice Award® winner, U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS follows Hugh, a lost sheep who finds himself at the Leadership Farm, where he learns the meaning of the acronym “U.N.I.Q.U.E.”: Understanding, Nurturing, Inventive, Quality, Unstoppable, Expression—and how to put each of these six success tools into practice as he sprouts his greatness.

The book is designed to help kids gain confidence, build leadership and decision making skills, and take personal responsibility for improving what can be changed and accepting what can’t be changed in their lives – without blaming others.

To support the lessons included in the book we have an Activity Guide and Journal designed as learning aids to involve the active participation of grownups who can read the book with a child (8-12), facilitate the activities, and provide mentoring and reinforcement in the Leadership Garden® concepts. There is an audio version of the book also soon to be released.

Tell us something about yourself.

I am a grandmother of six, a mother of five, and live in Albany, Oregon with my husband, Terry and dog, Mooko. My journey into leadership development and writing began after my mother died by suicide when I was 23. My passion to make a difference in an individual’s feeling of self-worth led to my career, writing led to my healing from her death almost 30 years later. I didn’t see the two clearly connected until I began to write the prologue of my first book explaining why I was so passionate about my work.

When my mother died, I had just recently graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Health Education. I taught in public schools for seven years before I had the opportunity to return to my alma mater to create and direct a youth leadership in prevention program we called OSSOM (Oregon Student On the Move). I carried my personal passion into my work and spent more than 32 years training and empowering youth and adult leaders. For my professional background I coordinated two national and 18 statewide conferences, trained 2000+ teens as trainers, presented programs to 40,000 people, raised more than $3,200,000, and directed 38 youth leadership camps.

What inspired you to write this book?

U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS is actually a full color adaptation of our adult book U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within. I began with the adult book because the most successful youth programs we had where those led by adults who understood the value of personal responsibility in their own life. At our camps, I realized empowering the adults was more critical than the kids and I spent most of my time working with their advisors. I knew it would serve children best to have the adults in their life modeling the same leadership qualities they would be teaching their students or children.
Using my Leadership Garden metaphor, adults create the fertile ground or rocky soil in which our children grow. To teach adults the principles and practices I outline in growing the metaphorical garden helps cultivate the soil for children to thrive.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

I didn’t become an author because I desired to be published. I became an author because I had a vision and message to convey. We had lost the funding for our youth program and I was at a crossroads in my career. Do I got back into the field and look for another job or take a new path?

I chose a new path. I loved my work and had two goals in mind. First, was to present a new view of leadership that is not a job, position, or title. It is a way of life that expresses your purpose, imagination, and dreams. My second was to one day able to fund programs like OSSOM. My purpose and aim was to empower extraordinary unstoppable leadership in life.

During that transition time, I attended a retirement party for a colleague at a Chinese restaurant. My fortune cookie was the quote by Richard Bach, “You are never given a wish or dream, without also being given the power to make it come true.”

That led me to form my own publishing company. After spending the bulk of my career surviving on government funding I wasn’t about turn my destiny over to someone else again and chose not to seek an outside publisher. I did a great deal of research and soul searching before reaching that decision, however.

I had a background in procurement of printing services and custom program design so learning the specifics of book publishing didn’t deter me. I knew I could hire the professional help I needed to guide me through the editing, book design, and publishing process. The soul searching challenged me to be up the task of marketing and promoting my work. It is often written that the easy part is the writing and publishing a book, especially with the technology available today. The challenge comes in the marketing and promotion.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

To be honest, I never wanted to be a writer. As I mentioned, I began my writing career by happenstance or circumstance; however one would like to define it. You could say I was like Hugh, the lost sheep in my books, who turned my passion and expertise into a book that would support my vision to create a collective and thriving worldwide Leadership Garden® Legacy.

I joke that I am the writer who doesn’t like writing, which really isn’t a joke, but true. I do, however, love writing personal emails as a form of communication. So I guess that makes me a writer.

However, that statement I don’t like writing sometimes annoys those who dream of writing a book. I reply quit dreaming, start writing, and take to heart Richard Bach’s quote. You have the power and it won’t happen unless you do it. In my adult book, I talk about all the times I almost stopped along the way. It had nothing to do with writing and more with my fear of truly expressing myself. The fact that I even finished the book and formed my business is a demonstration of my work. It was not easy and I have to true myself up each day to continue.

My vision and faith and ultimate goal have kept me going. When I found a way to create a funding mechanism to provide resources to kids and organizations to practice what I called “leader-friendly gardening practices” I was joyous, even more so than when I held my first book in my hands. I formed the Leadership Garden Fund in November of 2008 to begin that process. I now offer Cultivation Grants that support the leader-friendly gardening “Practice Projects” in the following categories:

· Inclusion Projects – be nonjudgmental
· Safe & Healthy Community Projects – do not enable harmful behaviors
· Compassion Projects – use empathy
· Kindness Projects – prune gossip
· Accountability Projects – eliminate blame
· Healing Projects – eradicate victimization

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

For me it was and is organizing my thoughts into a cohesive format that allow readers a clear understanding of the very complex and sometimes boring subject matter. That is why I use a lot of metaphor and acronyms. Most people don’t consider themselves leaders until they hold a special title, job or position. I offer a different view which challenges all of us.

I also consider myself more of a thinker and planner, than a writer. If allow myself to just write and get my thoughts on paper then is comes easy. It becomes hard when I try to perfect my own work or write about things that I am not passionate about. That is why I highly value my two editors and colleagues whom I have learned from and have helped me along the way. I also admire a journalist or writer who has the talent to write about any subject and make it interesting.

How do you do research for your books?

First, the main research came from my personal and professional experience in the field of leadership development. I then read others in the field to see where we aligned and differed. For the adult book and subsequent children’s book, I did a lot of research on brain development which I must say is very dense and difficult reading. I also use the internet to do research.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

Patience and adaptations aren’t easy. When we began the children’s book adaptation we thought it was basically done and it would be simple to do. We planned on finished in eight months. Two years and eight months later we finally completed that book.

The biggest challenge was deciding our direction and format of this book. On the surface, writing for kids seemed simple since we already had the fable storyline and a set of black and white illustrations to work from. It ended up being much more complex. We went back to the drawing board to learn the story board process and called in expert educators and a children’s book editor to help us. I also learned my limitations and the value again of expert help to produce a quality product.

Looking back, the illustrator and I realized it would have been much easier to start with a new book. Just like the adult book is no ordinary book on leadership, neither is the kid’s book. It is 132 pages, with eight chapters, and 74 full color illustrations. It is like eight little books with one continuous story, since kids do not have the attention span to absorb all the information conveyed in the book in one sitting. We actually considered breaking it out into eight books in a series, but it wasn’t the kind of story that could be told in separate pieces. Growing leadership in this way is a process, not an event, so we kept it together.

What are you reading now?

The lastest book is Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green by Jay Conrad Levinson and Shel Horowitz. It is a new release. Shel is one of those authors and experts I have learned from about the world of publishing and I utilize some of his services. I was attracted to Shel’s work because of his emphasis on ethical business practices. He and I believe in many of the same things when it comes to ethics, integrity, and authenticity.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I read very little fiction, though occasionally I like to snuggle up with a good novel. I read mostly non-fiction and love reading about real people and inspiring stories of their lives. I filter everything through a lens of personal leadership and triumph in life.

One of my favorite author’s is Barbara DeAngelis because I seem to find her books just at the moment I need to read them. In fact, that is how I find and read most books. My library is full of an eclectic array of books ranging from marketing, writing, publishing, brain research, memoirs, leadership, self-help, self-improvement, and just about any subject that interest me or I need to learn about in the moment to support my purpose in life.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

Somewhat. I have a working title called C.H.O.I.C.E. intended to be the next in the acronym series. If you read my work you will notice use acronyms and metaphor because they help organize my thinking, learning, and writing.

I have been working on bits and pieces of that book concurrently since the release of my first book. It is the next installment of what I learned on the next phase of my life journey becoming author and entrepreneur. My writing is really like a cross breed of mini-memoir, education, empowerment, and engagement for the reader. I use my own life experiences to illustrate the leadership lessons or message I convey but always backed up by research.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

First advice is writers must read. I read that in a book when I first began and didn’t realize how true it would become for me. The more I read other’s work the more proficient I became in articulating my voice.

I began as a clueless writer who read very little until I found two books that I highly recommend every writer read. One is Bird by Bird by Ann Lamont and the other On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser. Each provided me the understanding and clarity about the process I needed to go the distance and complete my work. It’s not that hard to start and ramble. It is much more challenging to polish and finish.

Bird by Bird made me laugh and cry, and helped me understand the need to just write. She used the phrase “shitty first draft” that soothed my ego after my editor got hold of my first manuscript. I knew I was on the right track and could go back and work on it.

Zinsser’s book reinforces Lamont’s first draft concept and talks about how the battle is won in the rewrite. Also I loved his belief that you must write what you know and write to please yourself, but be open to help and feedback. At least that is how I interpreted his work.

As far as publishing, I recommend reading Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publisher by Shel Horowitz to every writer who has a dream of being published. I want to make this disclaimer. I don’t get paid to endorse Shel’s work. In fact, I became a satisfied client after meeting him in person and reading his work. In his book he explains the different publishing options available to help a writer choose the best publishing option for them. He was the only one I found who had firsthand experience about all the different options available and gave an honest assessment of the pros and cons of each.

I strongly believe that a writer’s best chance of achieving their goal is to understand all the options available to them and then choose the best option for them. I am all about choice and eliminating blame. When you make an informed choice you have no one to blame, can learn from mistakes, and have the best chance to succeed at fulfilling your dreams.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

We are doing book signings, workshops, speaking, online social media, and are working on a national media campaign. We are still implementing parts of our business and marketing plan since we are promoting both the books and the business vision.

We also have a few demonstration projects in the works that are helping us test our Leadership Garden Legacy framework that will report on next fall. Most recently, Western Oregon University, our premier teacher training institution in Oregon, is partnering with us to offer a series of Leadership Garden workshops for a variety of audiences for college credit. Our first is at the end of April is for grandparents. I started with this audience since the role we can play in empowering our families and grandchildren is my main passion these days.

My sixth grandchild was born five weeks early on March 16, 2010. Holding that little bundle of joy in my hands beats every accomplishment and accolade that I could achieve. And it was my daughter and son-in-law’s accomplishment. My job is to empower, nurture, and tend to our family Leadership Garden as I continue to seed and nurture the seeds of leadership greatness on the planet.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Readers can become a fan on facebook: or follow me on Twitter: and find the books online at and other online retailers.