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Texas Talent: Judy Phillips & Brenda Nichols

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Photos by K2 Images

Talent-Judy-and-Brenda-TogetherWhat is it about the seemingly boundless potential of children? What is it about the wonderment of childhood? Could it be the minds of children are always learning, thus perpetually compelling the best among us to teach? What is it about the first books our children hold and learn from? Proverbs 22:6 reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Through the rearing of a child, the child absorbs lessons. The messages our children receive will be the messages our children will take to the world. Thus, could it be that books for children are perhaps one of the most powerful thought-provoking elements of any culture?

Two women, author Judy Phillips and illustrator Brenda Nichols, both from different paths in life, came together in the Piney Woods community of Huntsville, Texas. Most assuredly their efforts will produce lasting effects that will inspire generations to come, through the basics of literature and art—aimed at our most precious resource, our children.

What is it about your working relationship that is so special?

Judy:  I think it’s because of the fact that we are a team, Brenda and I. It’s almost as if we both become aware of each other’s ideas that develop into dialog about the development of our stories.

Talent-Moose-Alligator-SnakeTell us about your journey to become a writer.

Well, my interest in writing began with my parents getting me a typewriter when I was only about 10 years old. From there, I was always part of newspaper teams in high school. I’d write stories, mostly about a little girl growing up in East Texas. I didn’t write a lot of fiction back then. But later, I like to think that I became good at being a technical writer.

And you Brenda? How did you get started as an illustrator?

Brenda:  I remember, I was nine years old in the third grade. Back in those days, I was diagnosed with a learning disability. I remember being placed in learning disability classes.

Talent-SheepThat seems so hard to believe, considering the quality of work that you do.

For me, my teachers made a big difference. They had me make these illustration books, even back then. I still have them. I mean, I still have those same illustration books I made as a girl in Jennings, Louisiana.

Did you ever write any stories growing up?

Brenda: Oh, yes! (laughing) My parents owned a Piggly Wiggly grocery store back in Jennings. I would write stories about a little girl that lived and grew up inside a Piggly Wiggly. I did it because that’s how I grew up. This outlet was really a plus for me growing up.

Talent-Drawing-with-GlassesBeing from East Texas and Southwestern Louisiana (which many feel is simply more Eastern Texas or more Western Louisiana depending on your perspective)…as young girls, what sort of books did “y’all” read?

(Simultaneously) Lots of E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web, and The Hardy Boys.

Tell us exactly how did the two of you meet—a counselor and the women’s basketball coach at Sam Houston State University?

Judy:  I’m a school counselor at Sam Houston Elementary School here in Huntsville. I think we met about ten years ago.

Brenda:  I remember we talked about getting together about books for children.

Judy:  We came up with this idea about a moose named “Beauregard” back in 2009.

Was it a hit right away?

Judy:  Not really. I think it was rejected at first.

Talent-Mom's-Choice-AwardsWow, that’s hard to believe, since this book received “silver” in the prestigious “Mom’s Choice Award.”  What did you do after the initial rejection?

Judy:  I think, in the beginning, we owe a lot to Hastings Book Store that was in Huntsville at that time.

Brenda:  At that time, Hastings tried to push local authors, and I asked for and received an interview. It was only five minutes.

Talent-Moose-HometownJudy:  After a lot of time and research, we made our moose “Beauregard” a traveling moose.

Brenda:  That led to us getting in contact with a local publishing company called Smooth Sailing Press. I called and just so happened to get the owner’s son on the phone. They set up an interview about 9:30 that morning. We both took our husbands with us, and it was almost like going on a recruiting trip. I remember, they just kept looking at us and not really saying much, just hearing our ideas.

Talent-BeauregardWere you sweating this thing out?

Brenda:  I was, but they told me that I needed to learn to draw in water colors. He said “Bring this back in a week.”

Judy:  I thought, “At least they didn’t say no.” But that gave us time.

Brenda:  I was thinking, “In a week?!”  I hadn’t drawn in more than 20 years, and now I had to learn to do it in watercolors and only had a week.

Talent-A-Moose-is-LooseBeauregard became a tremendous success, but there is still more in the works right?

Brenda:  Yes! We’re going to have Beauregard traveling lots of places. Also, as a coach and through the pure collaboration, Judy and I have together thought about girls and sports and how wonderful it could be for us to do something on that. We wondered if we were missing the train on this one.

Talent-Miss-PrissIs this how your second series of books Miss Priss came about? Tell us about that.

Judy:  Well, with Beauregard, it was more like a picture book, but with Miss Priss, our publisher wanted a chapter book. They said chapter books were really the “in” thing now. It came to about 33,000 words for one book.

Wow! Tell us about Miss Priss.

Judy:  Well, her father is into sports and wants her to play basketball, but her mother is more into dance and wants her to get into dancing.

I think I might see where this is going. It seems to be a little of you both, right?

Brenda:  It is. A lot of the things featured in our books are from various parts of our childhood. In fact Miss Priss’ father is a pharmacist just like Judy’s father, and her grandparents have a Piggly Wiggly, just like the one I grew up around.

I understand that the release date will be sometime this July?

Judy:  July 15, 2015 is the release date for the first book in this series. What’s different about this book is that Miss Priss is not going to stay the same age. She’s going to grow. We’re going to see the different stages in her life as she ages. She’ll be not only growing up, but having dreams and overcoming obstacles.

So, you have all the stories about Miss Priss done now?

Brenda:  We’ve got about four in drawing and manuscripts.

Judy:  She may even be trying softball next.  But the goal is that we want parents and children to love literacy, and we want kids to begin talking about writing. I also think, at sometime in the future, we may even do something about Coach (Brenda). She really has a very inspiring story that needs to be told.

It’s important to note each of the books by this team is packed with great detail and warmth. One gets the feeling of the deep and lasting memories children will have with these books that are destined to become classic.

For more information, visit beauregardlemoose.com, “Miss Priss Trailer” on Youtube.com (below), backporchwriter.com or smoothsailingpress.com.

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