One of the many benefits of working in publishing is that I get the chance to meet people who inspire me. Case in point: Over the past few months, I’ve gotten to know Nancy Buffington, a communications coach and children’s author. I was impressed to learn that she taught for twenty years at four universities, including teaching public speaking at Stanford University. Now, she’s back in her hometown of Boise, Idaho, where she’s founded her company, Boise SpeakWell.
What really struck me about Nancy, though, is her presence. She’s easy to talk to, intelligent, and charismatic. She has a heart for helping young girls and women learn how to better communicate and succeed in a world that isn’t necessarily designed for their success.
That’s why I was so excited to hear about the release of her debut children’s book, Ruby Lee and the VERY BIG DEAL. The book features a female heroine (hooray!) and, well, I’ll let Nancy tell you the rest:
Stacy: What is Ruby Lee and the VERY BIG DEAL about?
Nancy: It’s about a quiet, rather shy 10- or 11-year-old girl, Ruby Lee, who wins an essay contest. The prize is to read her essay at an upcoming town celebration. She’s mortified. Luckily, her Great Aunt Alice, who is rumored to have been a starlet in the days of Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable, comes to her rescue. Ruby’s a bit scared of Alice, who tends to drift in and out of reality, but Alice shares colorful stories and stage secrets that turn Ruby herself into a star by the end. And, of course, Ruby and Alice become much closer in the process.
What inspired you to write the book?
I was just getting started developing my business as a public speaking coach. A business advisor, giving me a long and scary-sounding list of things I could and should do, said, “You should write a BOOK about public speaking! You should write a CHILDREN’S book!” At the time I thought, “Now that’s about the dullest idea I’ve ever heard.” I imagined a textbook full of rules and formulas and grainy 1970s-style photos. About a week later, I had insomnia, and it came to me: “A STORY. Of course—a story about public speaking! That I can do!” By morning, I had the title, basic plot, and the first and last bits of dialogue.
Fascinating! Now, readers may wonder: Do you have a personal connection to Ruby Lee, the main character?
I didn’t realize it when I wrote the story, but absolutely. Starting at about 11—Ruby’s age—I became really quiet in school. I’d realized that being a smart girl in a rough school in the 1970s was not a good way to win friends or influence people. So, I just stopped talking—and never said a single word in class (unless called on) from 6th grade until almost the end of graduate school! I’m a recovering introvert for sure.
Tell us a little about Great Aunt Alice. Is her character based on someone in real life?
Yes and no. I actually did have a Great Aunt Alice myself—her name was Alice Cooper, of all things. She was a bit intimidating, like Ruby’s aunt, but that’s about as far as the similarities go. She was a WAVE in World War II, and never married, though she did have a very long and close relationship with alcohol. I have some pieces of her jewelry that I wear often. She also gave me my very first album, by Tony Orlando and Dawn.
Why did you choose a female heroine, and what message does the book offer girls?
I didn’t choose a female heroine on purpose—it all just came to me at once. Once I wrote it, though, I realized how important the book’s message is for girls, in particular. Far too many girls lose their voice and self-confidence (like I did) right around puberty—the mid-1990s book Reviving Ophelia helped our culture become aware of this. My goal is to catch girls right before that psychological nose-dive happens, and give them some easy tools to keep them talking, joyfully and confidently.
I love it! What a great message for girls and women alike. Switching gears a bit: As a new author, what advice do you have for children’s writers who want to publish their own books?
Just do it! These days you don’t have to be shut out of the publishing world. Start small if you need to—self-publishing is a great thing. I planned to self-publish, but a publisher just came my way at the perfect time. If a prestigious publisher is your heart’s desire, fine—start small and establish a track record so you can get their attention. You may decide you don’t need that publisher after all. J
You mentioned that you have a great illustrator and publisher. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Stephanie Mullani is a gifted illustrator and great friend who lives in Boise. She studied art in London and Minneapolis, and has written/illustrated a range of kids’ books. When Stephanie was about halfway done illustrating Ruby Lee, she and her husband Kevin started a small publishing company, Tru Publishing. The company is a great match for writers like me who don’t quite want to deal with self-publishing, but don’t quite want to deal with the cost and hassle of big-name publishers, either. They’re great with formatting for e-books, and they’re fast, high-quality and ethical. Does this sound like a commercial yet?
Where can readers get a copy?
On Amazon (e-book or print), and at Hyde Park Books and Penny Lane Kids in Boise. I’ll be talking to more local bookstores soon.
Many thanks to Nancy for her time, and for writing a book that will be helpful to so many people. I encourage you to pick up a copy; it’d make a great Christmas gift!
If you’re local and would like to meet Nancy in person, she’ll be doing a book signing at one of my favorite bookstores, Hyde Park Books, on Saturday, Dec 14, 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Nancy Buffington is a former English professor who now teaches outside the classroom as a communications coach, helping professionals find and use their voices. She lives in Boise, Idaho with her husband Clyde, sons Jesse (19) and Gabriel (11), and four tabby cats. While she has published a range of academic pieces, this is her first children’s book.
About Ruby Lee and the VERY BIG DEAL
Ruby Lee wins a fabulous “prize” in her elementary school: to read her essay in front of her entire town. But Ruby is horribly afraid of speaking in public. Help comes in the guise of her eccentric Great Aunt Alice, who may—or may not—have been a starlet in the golden age of film. Alice’s “secrets to becoming a star” ensure that Ruby shines when the big day comes. The two come to appreciate each other—and readers come away with down-to-earth, effective tips for public speaking success.
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Great piece, Stacy and congratulations to Nancy! Her focus on empowering young women is one I share in my fiction. And I love the “recovering introvert” quip.
Thanks, Joel! I love the female empowerment aspect of your novels, too.