Linda Ragsdale's Peace Dragon, ALPHABETTER and HOW I DID IT

Linda Ragsdale is a survivor of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, a peace-seeker, and all around inspiring person. She has long supported me on my creative journey, and I am thrilled to be able to return the favor as she celebrates the release of two new picturebooks - ALPHABETTER and HOW I DID IT. I asked her some questions about them and about The Peace Dragon project...

e: What is your creative process, can you walk us through it?
My creative process is living fully and listening to those whispers that tug on my heart, make me giggle or remember a feeling long past. They come at anytime, so I’ve learned how to voice command text while driving, type notes while walking (though I don’t walk and chew gum!) and at night, a sketch book lies at the ready, a mechanical pencil nestled in the binding.
     First drafts come about in all forms. Sometimes it starts as lists from the whispers, the beginning or ending of the story and sometimes it’s the synopsis or the full story. If a story doesn’t gel right away, I know to wait. Some chance event will deliver the answer.
      When all the ingredients come together, then its draft, draft, draft. Rewrite. Wait. Rewrite. Wait. Share and rewrite. My joy is that this can be done anywhere. And you have to take advantage of those anywheres! One of my faves is sitting outside my door with the turtles and wildlife. Turtles can teach you a lot!

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Though I’m not a traditional illustrator for books, I do art for my non-profit and presentations. Heart Art reaches into the memories and moments of the viewer and the artist. It’s hearing that whisper we’ve heard once upon our lives, found within the loving hands of the artists chosen colors, lines, and textures. It’s the golden thread reconnecting us to a secret giggle, oooo, ahhh, or tears, and gently tied to our hearts.

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of these stories?
I wrote the manuscript for How I Did It over a decade ago, at a time I felt I had totally made a mess of everything. I truly felt like the scribble! As I kept writing the story, I found resilience by seeing the beauty in the twists and turns happening in my life. It’s wild to me how pertinent the message was then and now. Facing the later challenges of living through both a terrorist attack and stage three breast cancer, I was able to look beyond the event, physical challenges to the gifts. Oddly enough, I use this book to work with cancer patients to keep looking for the gifts within every experience. Find the treasure, dump the trash! It proves the point that picture books play a purpose far deeper than some people know, but PB people know. They’re written for everyone!

e: What was your path to publication and The Peace Dragon project? 
I have one of those really non-traditional paths! Surviving the attack, I started my non-profit The Peace Dragon. My mission expanded from teaching children how to own the artistry of their lives through the arts, to using the arts with children and adults to connect with the their peaceful and fiery side and transform their fire into light! Through my speaking engagements, I found my way to Tennessee Tech University, working on joint peace projects and grants with Professor Ada Haynes. On one of her flights home from a trip, she couldn’t sit next to her husband, and found herself next to a publisher from Flowerpot Press. Thank goodness they’re both talkers! She shared my story, and my stories, and set up a meeting. I pitched my stories in person and I had a contract when I left. My joy is that it’s a small publisher, and because the nature of the projects, I get to work with the editors on the visuals, as they’re key for expanding the peace messages.

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
The infinite possibilities are exciting and most challenging. Each idea can lead to a thousand different conclusions. So when and where do you stop? Deadlines can provide that answer, but not necessarily stop the wondering and wandering!

e: Is there something in particular about these stories you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
To try everything, at least twice. The story is a roller coaster emotional romp that changes the ideas of success, failure and the try. I see too many kids stop trying after a single attempt. In teaching peace, resilience and resourcefulness offer infinite possibilities after one path closes. And if we don’t keep trying things, we can miss so much! I didn’t like ketchup as a kid, but I do now as an adult. Try now, try later, because we know, grow and change as we live. During school visits, I have everyone try a yoga pose standing on one leg. Kids are surprised when they can do it with their non-dominant leg!

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Right now I’m finishing the revisions for the Peace Dragon’s debut story for the fall of 2018. *The characters are a memorial to my two friends killed by my side that night in Mumbai, and marks the ten-year anniversary. Books offer a safe passageway to understanding and this book addresses the fears facing our children and the world right now, and provides a path to finding peace together, all through the story of a little boy and his dragon friend. It subtly introduces the ideas of establishing a compassionate View, Voice and Choice to set peace as the default response to any life event. It’s friendship, fire and introduces Omani the Dragon!
      My dream project is turning the Peace Dragon’s story into a musical. We have two soundtracks and I’m so psyched to stage the play as something never experienced in live theaters. The project is a collaboration of all arts and senses, and I’m hoping it will be an all out “whole-hearted” experience!

Linda's History note: Elizabeth and I were both presenters at the Southern Festival of Books when I did the first storytelling version on the children’s stage! Also, outside of the eight hundred word count, the characters in The Peace Dragon’s Tale are named after my two friends; Sherwyn, after my friend Alan Scherr, and Omani, are the jumbled letters of Naomi and the our favorite chant, Om Mane Padme Hum, one we were singing hours before we were shot.

About Linda Ragsdale: Author, illustrator and international speaker/teacher Linda Ragsdale shares how the powerful skills of View, Voice and Choice can lead people through the more challenging parts of their lives with a peaceful and productive outcome. As a survivor of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, her physically devastating wound validates her message of empathy and compassion over retaliation or resentment. Her work in peace education has led her around the world, empowering over 30,000 students to see and speak with a new voice, and an expanded capability of choice. These same tenets of peace offered her a safe journey through breast cancer, finding treasures within the moments of darkness. Whether the terrorist comes from outside or within, Ragsdale believes peace offers a balanced journey through every challenging event. Learn more at The Peace Dragon.

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