Jeffra A. Nicholson – Author Interview

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

The title of my most recent book is The Tao of Mia and Leo.

In these uncertain economic times when many are being forced to reevaluate their lives, their choices, and values, this book offers insight into how we can learn to make authentic changes. Small, simple, yet thoughtful changes, empowering us to be more conscious of our lives, conscious of the choices we make and conscious of our responsibility to the world around us; becoming better people and making the world a better place to live.

The Tao of Mia and Leo details my life experiences with my kitties, the profound impact they had on my life and the lessons I learned from them. Told through a series of vignettes, these stories will delight anyone who has ever loved a pet and/or anyone going through significant transitions.

Change is inevitable, whether we are ready for it or not; but the real question is, how do we cope with life changes, without becoming stuck in anger and sadness and rediscover our joy? This book explores these issues and provides some suggestions.

I adopted Mia and Leo when I was going through a series of significant life transitions. These uniquely different creatures helped usher in the meaningful changes that reshaped my perceptions about myself, and my world.

These vignettes give the reader insight into my life, and the lives and adventures of Mia and Leo, two cats that through their everyday antics helped me to reawaken to life, to rediscover the tools for creatively and courageously living my life.

These vignettes are amusing, heartwarming, and insightful. I haven’t humanized Mia and Leo; only documented their experiences to show that the simplest creatures in simple scenarios can teach us the most profound life lessons.

Tell us something about yourself.

I am a former educator, having taught kindergarten, 3rd grade and Contemporary Literature in high school. I left teaching after five years and began my tenure working in the corporate sector. I began my career as an educational consultant, advancing to the role of marketing manager, product manager, and director of marketing for several major educational publishing companies. In my pursuit of career advancement and satisfying my inner gypsy, I moved seven times across the country. In 2006, I moved to Northern California, where I found my courage, and made the decision to publish the book that I had been working on for a couple of years, The Tao of Mia and Leo.

I began writing in high school, never believing that I would ever publish, just writing for my own amusement. But working for a publishing house and meeting various authors, ignited the flame of a dream that had been smothering inside for a long time, the dream of sharing my writing. Finally, with the support of close friends and family members, I realized that what I had written was worth sharing; this was an important turning point in my life. After many false starts, many manuscripts, rejection letters, I finally made my dream come true, the dream of becoming a published author. Originally from Detroit, I live in Oakland, California with my two insightful buddies, Mia and Leo and our newest addition to the family, Ms. Diamond.

What inspired you to write this book?

Writers tend to be observers, we get our inspiration from all around us, and it becomes the substance that makes up our inner world. My habit of observation led me to write, The Tao of Mia and Leo. What’s more fun than watching two kittens at play and to discover that their playful antics are the keys to living authentically. My observation of Mia and Leo taught me that the simplest creatures in simple scenarios could teach us the most profound life lessons.

I adopted Mia and Leo when I was going through a series of significant life transitions. I had resigned from my job, because I was burnt –out and wanted to change my life, to find a more balanced way to live. I thought that perhaps with this time off I could pursue my dream to write. Although I enjoyed the writing process, was disciplined in writing everyday, nothing was going the way that I had dreamed. I had written a novel, and had begun the process of sending it to publishers, only to receive rejection letter after rejection letter. My savings were drying up and I began to feel that I had made a terrible mistake, that what I had dreamed for myself for so long was all wrong. And how could it be, Joseph Campbell said, to follow your bliss and everything would be great (okay not those exact words, but you understand). And suppose the only thing that I could do was work in corporate America until I dropped dead from a heart attack (yes I know that sounds dramatic, but a little drama helps). This made me quite depressed and my only relief from my depression was watching these two uniquely different creatures, Mia and Leo. Through them I was able to reclaim my faith and usher in the meaningful changes that reshaped my perceptions about myself, and my world.

These vignettes give the reader insight into my life, and the lives and adventures of Mia and Leo, two cats that through their everyday antics helped me to reawaken to life, to rediscover the tools for creatively and courageously living my life.

How did you publish this book? Why did you decide on that publisher?

After doing extensive research, I decided to go the POD route, Publishing on Demand, instead of seeking out a traditional publishing house. I found that Infinity Publishing was a company that would support my goals as a new author. I wanted more control over my work than what a traditional publishing house would give me. I also didn’t want to waste anymore time with rejections, I knew I had a good book, I knew that people would want to read this book, I didn’t want my dream crushed by someone who didn’t have confidence in me or what I wrote. I also felt that the financial issues that publishing houses were and are facing today, would prohibit them taking a chance on a new author like me; as a new author I didn’t believe my book would see the light of day with a conventional publisher.

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

English was my favorite subject in school, not diagramming sentences, but literature. I loved to read and I loved to write. In high school I carried around a notebook filled with short stories that I had written, as well as ideas for future stories. However, I never imagined myself as a writer, I wanted to teach school, and travel. So that’s what I did. I became a teacher, and loved it. I taught for five years; but, by the fifth year, schools began to change, more paper work, less time teaching, less parental support, more students, I grew weary, and felt isolated from the world. I decided I wanted to refine my skills and move into the corporate world. Needless to say my life changed drastically, I felt like I belonged in this new world of quotas, suits, meetings and pseudo-power. Although I was still writing stories for my own amusement, and as a marketer my job necessitated having the ability to write, I never considered writing as a career. Maybe we undervalue what comes easy to us, and seek the more traditional, and often less fulfilling, or perhaps I didn’t believe anyone would want to read my view of the world.

It took almost twenty years for me to discover that writing was the true connection to my soul.

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

I love writing; writer’s block hasn’t been a problem for me. Occasionally, the problem is keeping my commitment to write daily, whether I’m working on a project or not. I mediate everyday which I believe helps to bring up and release any blocks even before beginning the writing process. I think it’s important to exercise, to “prime the pump”, to get the creative juices flowing. My mood dictates which form of exercise I choose to do; I may go to the gym, do my yoga practice, or walk. I especially love walking. Writers tend to be observers, we get our inspiration from all around us, and it becomes the substance that makes up our inner world. My habit of observation led me to write, The Tao of Mia and Leo. What’s more fun than watching two kittens at play and to discover that their playful antics are the keys to living authentically.

How do you do research for your books?

Observation, observation, and more observation. Internet is also a wonderful tool for research.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

The evolution of this book, wasn’t by my design, this was not the book that I had planned to write. I had written several manuscripts, a novel, a couple of children manuscripts, before deciding that the notes I took as I watched my kittens play would make a good story. I suppose that’s how the creative process works. I have a friend who said, “your ship can come in and you’re waiting at the airport.” I think it is important to be flexible, and open, to listen, when writing; usually your dreams don’t always come in the form you expect. I often hear writers say that they started writing one story and ended up with a completely different one, almost as if the story took on a life of it’s own and it does. Writing is organic. That’s what’s so exciting about the creative process; we must learn not to hold on too tightly, to loosen enough to go with the flow, to go where our imagination takes us. I did .

What are you reading now?

Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting The Soul, by Deepak Chopra

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

I’m a voracious reader; my favorite authors run the gamut, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, BeBe Moore Campbell, Anne Tyler. I love good storytellers, I love rich textured stories, that challenge my reality, and I love quirky characters that are out of the norm. I also read several metaphysical or New Thought authors, Deepak Chopra, and Eric Butterworth are especially good; and I love to read children’s books, Sandra Belton is one of my favorite authors. Her ability to beautifully reconstruct history for children and her love of language makes her stories not only beautifully written but great storytelling. I don’t read if I’m working on a project, I want to make sure that I remain true to my own style.

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

I’m working on a children’s book , a script for a new cable series, and I guess a sequel to The Tao of Mia and Leo. As fate would have it, I recently and reluctantly adopted a stray kitten, Ms. Diamond. The book will detail the impact this newest addition is having on the family, Mia, Leo and me. It has been an interesting experience, dear me; my kittens are all grown up.

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

Follow your heart, trust your intuition, write what you enjoy writing about, stay true to yourself, believe in yourself and trust the process. Please, please don’t judge by appearances, most writers have been rejected, many times; delay is not denial. Stand firm in what you know is true for you. Don’t compare yourself with anyone, there are stories that must be told and only you can write them. Never let anyone steal your dream.

In deciding on a publisher, research and choose based on what you want, not just who wants you. I know we become anxious about the publishing process, and we sometimes forget that we are offering our gift to them, the time and effort it took to write is worthy of a caring and supportive publishing experience. With that said, make sure you have done your best work, a true reflection of who you are because whatever happens that energy is now part of the book. If the Universe has given you a story to tell, honor that and do your very best. It is a wonderful gift to be given the talent to write. Honor it and use it wisely.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

Goodness, everything I could, including using a publicist for a short-term contract.