Merry, happy, lovely Christmas to all!

Otis has been enjoying a much deserved rest after his big appearance at the Southern Festival of Books earlier this fall.  Now, he’s gladly lounging under the Christmas tree, enjoying a few (several) extra tasty holiday treats, and all the loving and cuddling his three favorite children can offer.  It’s Christmas at our house, and we are happily tucked into our little cottage for the remainder of the year.  Writing is paused, book promotion is on hold, and all things *family* are in full swing.  Enjoy those you love, share with those who need, and savor, savor savor.

We look forward to greeting you in 2015 with a calendar of appearances and exciting new announcements to unfold.  Until January, friends and followers…

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year to you all!

Lots of love, Ashley & Otis, and all the crew

Merry Xmas from Otis 2014

Southern Festival of Books… check!

We have not yet come down from our experience with the Southern Festival of Books, 2014. What an incredible honor to have been included in such a wonderfully planned, celebrated, and well-attended event. Rain? Yes, there was plenty of that, but my take-away lesson as a rookie SFB2014 author is that true book fans aren’t afraid of a little cloud water.

Otis and I at War Memorial Plaza (left), and the beautiful 2014 poster, signed by all the authors (right)! Check out the name in the lower, middle, right area... so cool!

Otis and I at War Memorial Plaza (left), and the beautiful 2014 poster, signed by all the authors (right)! Check out the name in the lower, middle, right area… so cool!

Parnassus Books was the on site book retailer for featured Festival books, and we felt a swell of pride when a stack of Otis books was placed in the middle of them all.  And of course, Parnassus played their part with all the professionalism, elegance and class for which they are known and loved.

Otis Goes to School at SFB2014

Otis Goes to School at SFB2014

Saturday morning, October 11, my little tight-knit family boarded the Bramlett-mobile, hung out the windows with paddles, and rowed together into Nashville’s downtown.  War Memorial Plaza was a marble and granite-floored sea of bustling excitement and umbrella polka dots, sailing from one book-loving tent to another. I had already discussed with my supportive family the possibility of low attendance, by reason of the weather and the busy weekend.  Delightfully, I could not have been more wrong!

At 1pm, my scheduled time to present Otis Goes to School, the children’s tent was packed (standing-room-only-PACKED) with little eyes of wonderment and hearts a-flutter with sightings of a real, live, fluffy black dog, making his SFB2014 debut.  We shared the story of Otis and how his book came to be.  We read a few chapters for all my new whippersnapper friends, talked about descriptive words and story-telling, handed out bookmarks, and then Otis did his thing with his new stage-induced howl and his charming willingness to sit and be petted and loved on and oooohed and ahhhhhed over. Tough job he has!

We went on to sign books, meet new fans, take pictures, and just flat out enjoyed our day.  Landmark Booksellers, the first bookstore to host a book signing for me (eternally grateful!), was there with treasured antique books and a wealth of knowledge.  And we made a great connection with the super cool book experts from McKay’s Bookstore, including plans for an upcoming Otis event!

I also had the high honor of signing books right next to Southern writer, Rick Bragg, author of Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story (Harper Collins Publishers)… and wouldn’t you know, he loved Otis and took his picture with him too!

Rick Bragg, petting Otis! He reminded him of a dog he had once. Way to go, Otis!

As if we had not yet reached enough stars for the day, we then crossed paths with Pete the Cat (also Harper Collins)!  Children’s literature brings folks and animals of all kinds together.  That was one awesome feline.

Hey Harper Collins: I’m seeing a pattern… maybe we should chat!


My biggest fans, who will go with me anywhere, are my husband and three children.

Rain or shine, sun or snow, they share their love wherever we go.

I am so thankful to have their inspiration, for their heart-generated support, and for their encouragement to keep reaching, keep writing, keep going.  This is a family adventure, this call to write, because it affects each one of us.  I appreciate and love all of you–my Robert, my Paul Kent, my Ella, and my little Preston–beyond any string of words I could ever hope to weave.

My bearded, bowtied husband brings his contagious smile to every event we attend... and he often holds the leash.  And, our three little ones--well, they are golden. Bottom right: Robert and I enjoyed the fantastic Author Party, held at the Waller Lansden law firm and catered deliciously by the Greenhouse.  We met and fellowshipped with some fascinating folks!

My handsome, bearded, bowtied husband brings his contagious smile to every event we attend… and he often holds the leash. And, our three little ones–well, they are golden.
Bottom right: Robert and I enjoyed the fantastic Author Party, held at the Waller Lansden law firm and catered deliciously by the Greenhouse. We met and fellowshipped with some fascinating folks!

Thank you to the Southern Festival of Books, Humanities Tennessee, Parnassus Books, and all the many generous sponsors and donors, for a truly amazing event.  The hospitality was top-notch, the swag was perfect, the organization was flawless, and the fans were devoted!  For me, it will forever be one of those career moments that shines with a special brightness… and I hope it’s the first in a long line of moments together.  SFB2015?  I definitely want to be there.

And for those of you who know us well, and noticed that our schipperke, Oxford, was not in the photos… he’s the only one who stayed home for SFB2014.  What was he doing?  Conjuring up ideas for the sequel.  After all, The Oxford Files, is in the works.  Maybe SFB2015 will be his year…

Oxford... scheming.

Oxford… scheming.

OTIS wants YOU…

…to come see him this weekend!  I invite you to share this invitation with everyone you know: repost, retweet, email, whatever social media platform you choose.  Come to the Youth Stage at the Southern Festival of Books on Saturday, at 1pm, and let me thank you in person!  Blessings to all of you who have cheered us on to this milestone.  See you soon!

Ad for Southern Festival of Books time slot

Legendary College GameDay: Ole Miss vs. Alabama

Go Rebels!  It’s a big day in SEC football, and this author is proud to sport her red and blue.  Ole Miss gave me a wonderful education.  Ole Miss believed in me.  Ole Miss professors nurtured my writing passions in a haze of Faulkner-iffic English, journalistic instruction and attention to detail.  The Pride of the South Marching Band played the soundtrack to my adventures in Oxford, and the Walk of Champions carved a path for me.  I was friends Colonel Reb.  I fed squirrels, studied, weaved words, fell in love with my boyfriend (now my husband), and attended and hosted many a tailgate under chandeliers in The Grove.

In the words of the Ole Miss Alma Mater:

Way down south in Mississippi / there’s a spot that ever calls…

I call it home to my younger self… the little country girl with dreams as big as a sentence composed under the alley of cedars of Rowan Oak.

Ole Miss means HOPE to me.  It means, “things that could be.”  And for football fans on this day, Rebels across the world are hoping for something that could be… to BEAT BAMA!

It’s just football, I know.  I realize it’s just a game.  There are far more intense concerns and worldwide issues to work for.  But for a couple of hours on this fine Saturday afternoon, I’m cuddling up with my family and our pups, and cheering for the team that represents the school that inspired me, lifted me up, and sent me on a flight to my future with an ocean’s worth of encouragement.  FINS UP!

It's a Great Day to be a Rebel

Southern Festival of Books

Otis fans!  Make your plans to join us at the 26th Annual Southern Festival of Books on War Memorial Plaza in downtown Nashville.  The Festival runs all weekend on October 10-12, and there is something for everyone.  Otis and I will be on the Youth Stage on Saturday, October 11, from 1-2pm (click here for a complete schedule), and in the Signing Colonnade immediately after.  Parnassus Books is the onsite bookseller, and they will have Otis Goes to School available for you.  I would love to meet you, sign your books, give you a bookmark from Otis, and thank you personally for joining us on this awesome literary adventure.  And Otis would love some special petting!

All my appreciation and thanks go to Humanities Tennessee and the Festival Committees for including us in this years list of authors.  We are humbled, deeply honored, and so extremely excited to be a part of such a acclaimed tradition and respected event in celebration of the written word.  We want to see you there!

Southern Festival of Books poster image 2014

OGTS new cover pic

Writing Into Wonderland

One of the best parts of being an author is receiving handcrafted stories from the youngest Otis Goes to School fans, learning to fashion their very own tales.  As a mother, it’s that much more special to hold my very own children’s crumpled up, notebook-papered accounts of vacations and childhood shenanigans, and interpretations of “what if?” The subject of creative writing has, thus, become a platform for me as I visit schools and spend time with young folks, and it is my hope to nurture their love for literature and its composition, in honoring the ones who did so for me.  To that end, I share with you my thoughts on writing with our own children: 

“Mommy, I see a puppy! He has a ball! Oh, wait… now he’s a sailboat! And there’s a train! Do you see it? Mommy, look! It’s a window! Do you think the train is gonna choo-choo through the window? I do, and… oh! Look at that castle! I’d like to see that castle up close. I wonder if I look small from there. Do you see, Mommy? What do you see…?”

Have you heard your little one rambling in such a fashion? Did you slam on the brakes for the puppy that was not, in fact, chasing a ball down the road? A sailboat and a train? No, we are not at the beach, and nowhere near the tracks. Yes the car has windows, and what castle? Ahhh… it’s the view from Wonderland–the world where children don’t need glasses and near-sightedness often blurs the reasonable, busily practical adult’s vision.


Children do have their heads in the clouds. At least, that’s where they start. That’s the leaping point… the endless possibilities of soaring have everything to do with seeds of encouragement and droplets of inspiration (or the lack thereof), and then the patience of time in all its unfolding, surprising power.

And as adorable, cloud-gazing moments march further into the realm of smile-worthy old memories, words and phrases that could only have come from the mouths of your own babes will fade, and we will not recall the specifics. Of course, you’ll likely have old photographs that cover your walls, fill your albums, decorate your desks and dressers and deplete the memory space available on your phones and tablets and computers, and without a doubt, they are to be ever cherished.

What, though, of the fleeting words that go with them? What of the uncatchable moment that passed from the back seat of silly cumulus concoctions? What of the rip-roaring playground adventures of braving a tightrope walk above the lava, from swing to swing, without daring to touch a toe to the ground of sure doom? What of the cops-and-robbers escapade that played out in the backyard while you cooked supper? What of the Matchbox car chase through Barbie’s Dreamhouse and My Little Pony’s stables? Their preservation is, no doubt, in your smile, your laugh lines, yours happy dreams, the locked vaults of your heart… and theirs.

If I said there is a way to harness a just a bit of those effervescent clouds, that disappearing castle, the childish adventures and observations that we chalk up to the earliest parts of all our lives… if you knew that the passion for avoiding the dangerous playground lava and always catching the bad guy could be lassoed and bottled… if you could see that puppy chase the ball right into a sailboat transformation from your child’s perspective, would you lean in? How about if you knew that such a capturing could spark your child’s interest in reading, give them a foundation of confidence in schoolwork challenges, hone fine motor skills, provide an outlet for emotion and creativity, and a hobby that requires no plugs, wires, or noise?

You’ll need a pencil and paper. Actually, your child will.

It is not humanly possible to hook the whole view from Wonderland, so there is no need for mommy-guilt, kid comparisons or one more line item to add to your super-mom CV. Your maternal role, in this opportunity, is quite simple after securing the pencil and paper: to encourage, and to give your child the time and wiggle-room to do the rest… on their own personal level.

Let them write. Tell them to write. Believe that they can. Forget proper spelling, punctuation and capitalization for the moment. This is not about syntax and grammar. This is about that leaping point, from the edge of that crazy-shaped cloud they think looks like a butterfly with tennis shoes and a unicorn’s horn… write that down, child.

Is the sky blue? What kind of blue? Like an island’s ocean? Your sister’s eyes? Your favorite crayon? Put it into your beautifully childish words and sound them out right onto the paper waiting to come alive by the shape of your squarely printed letters, your curly-q swirls, and the meaning and sentiments behind it all.

What is that tickle in your mind? That’s the birth of your imagination. And just where did that butterfly go? The tug from the tip of that pencil will take you there.

My daughter's journal collection... she started with pretending to write words, and now she fills the pages with "...the breathings of her heart."  William Wordsworth would be so proud.

Our daughter’s journal collection… she started with pretending to write words when she could first hold a pen, and now she fills the pages with “…the breathings of her heart.” William Wordsworth would be so proud. Thank you for letting mommy share your thoughts, dear girl!

“Mommy, what should I write? What should I say?” This is where you give them encouragement and time to let them do the exploring. Sometimes it’s hard to allow our children time to figure things out on their own. It’s easy to assist in the story, to give them the words, to entertain them so they are comfortable, to then cross that activity off the list and move on to a movie or video game, something to keep them occupied while you fold laundry in peace (or grab a precious minute or two to catch a well-deserved breath)!

Stretching muscles doesn’t always begin with ease. But let them get bored… it’s their imagination’s cue. Nourishing a child’s independent vision does take patience and inspiration, but once their wheels begin turning, once they see clearly that they are quite able to work out an original thought and transpose it to something on paper, your role slowly changes from “Mommy, Keeper of the Bottomless Activity Grab-Bag,” to “Reader of all things Wonderland-born.” Your child naturally becomes “Preserver of Fairytales and Memories.” And after some time, the words—especially the phonetically (mis)spelled ones–will be treasures that have magically captured those vanishing moments in the ever-evolving experience of parenthood.

Moms always love a sword with double edges… not the kind with a win-lose slicing pattern. No, this saber carves with love and purpose, both ways. Wield the power of writing and imagination, don it like knighthood on the shoulders of those tied to your apron strings, and watch them grow in a developing love for books and reading, with the added bonus of tuning the little muscles in their hands that move the pencil on the paper. While they begin to craft the butterfly’s flight path over the playground lava and through the window of the highest tower of the cloud castle, they are flexing far more than the glorious muscle of imagination.Ella writing.2

Lipscomb Academy Reading Specialist, Suzanne Howell, says “A child’s literacy development will flourish when their reading and writing instruction is woven together. Research shows a natural connection between the two subjects.  The relationship is reciprocal… [like] the chicken and the egg. One cannot exist without the other.  The act of writing words… expands the child’s ability to read.”

And if they really take to writing like a hobby, put a journal in their hands. Let them carry it everywhere they go, and encourage them to stop right in the middle of their hippity-hopping tracks and jot down whatever it is that has made an impression on their hearts. Let them add their own doodles and illustrations if they feel so inclined (ok, so pencil and paper, plus crayons or paints or stickers, etcetera… for the ankle-biters who really run with the opportunity).

Our oldest son's journals, full of his remembrances of family times, hopes and dreams.  Thank you for letting me share, sweet son!

Our oldest son’s journals, full of his remembrances of family times, hopes and dreams. Thank you for letting me share, sweet son!

Writing certainly won’t be every child’s favorite pastime. But think of it this way… every single child has a story to tell, and every single one of those stories is magnificently worthwhile and wonderfully different.  As an author, I’ve visited many schools and classrooms to encourage reading and writing, and I can tell you firsthand… the stories your children can weave are truly moving, drawn from the wells of youth and its endless supply of creativity.

I encourage you to put the pencil between their fingers, guide it to the paper, and prepare to be impressed. Be it about the weekend football game, the tree house stunt, the neighborhood dog who barks every time a car drives by, the lunchroom rumpus, the fairy who flutters in the garden, the Olympic gymnast and her lucky, pink and purple leotard, Bob the frog who lives in the creek or the time spent with Grandma counting cars going by from the front porch swing… there is a story that only your child can tell.

From the leaping point, give them the chance to soar beyond the puppy dog clouds, and bless them with the time to do it. You’ll find yourself inspired with your own imagination’s answer when they ask you, “Mommy, what do you see?”

I see no limits, sweet child. And the view from Wonderland, through your imagination-painted glasses, is quite spectacular.

Does your child enjoy writing?  If you are a teacher (and thank you for what you do!), do your students enjoy writing?  Share your children’s wordly creations with me, and I’d love to post them on the Otis blog, along with your child’s (or your class) picture!  Email

Happy wordsmithing!



It’s a Weekend for the DOGS…

…at the 25th Annual Dog Days celebration, benefitting the Nashville Humane Association!  It’s all happening THIS Saturday, September 20, 10am-4pm, at Centennial Park.  Otis will be right in the middle of the action in the Kid Zone (and there will be lots to do there… Otis will watch you bungee jump!).  He will be ready to receive all the petting you can share, and we’ll gather ’round for storytime in between all the exciting doggie events on the schedule.  We’ll have our books for sale, as well as special edition bookmarks (see below), and we’ll be proudly donating to the NHA.  Join us, in honor of your favorite canine companion!

And bring Fido!  You two can start the day off with some exercise as proud participants in the fabulous Mutt Strutt. And Fido is a sure candidate for the cutest dog contests, or perhaps the best trick contest, or maybe best pet costume is up your alley… and you definitely need to plan to have your puppy’s portrait made for a keepsake.  Join the Paws Parade at Noon, and have your fill of food truck delights while you enjoy live music and shop all the doggie-necessity vendors who will be there.  After you admire the amazing K-9 unit demonstrations, it may very well be time to head over to the adoption area and add the perfect family member to your arms.

If you love dogs, then Centennial Park is the place for you to be this Saturday.  Otis gives two ears up to the NHA!



OGTS DogDays 2014 bookmark

I love Otis.3

Original OGTS bookmark with online tags

Read much? Love dogs?

Then you need a placeholder between your pages that makes you smile!

Please consider giving $1 or more for this bookmark–any donation amount that makes you feel involved–and 100% of the profits will go straight to the Nashville Humane Association, benefitting dogs just like our beloved Otis (and lots of other animals, too!).  How many bookmarks do you need?  Email and let me know… today!

And then come meet us at the 25th Anniversary Dog Days Celebration in Nashville (benefitting the NHA), on September 20, 2014, and Otis will thank you in person… or in canine!

Pass the word… post it on Facebook… retweet on Twitter… call you animal-loving friends and send them my way.  Thank you, in advance, for your help!

Email and let me know how many bookmarks you would like to purchase!

Email and let me know how many bookmarks you would like to purchase!

Happy National Bacon Day from Otis!

It’s another all-American day of observance to pay homage to something fun for everyone… and this time, something delicious!  It’s National Bacon Day… and it’s also the first weekend of college football.  Coink-y-dink? Surely not!  

We’ve already shared a pic of our family with Otis (via Twitter on Thursday), displaying the football team to whom we pledge our loyalty… (click here to see our Rebel family).

So now, here’s Otis and his tribute to Bacon Day.  He’s really a good, sweet and patient dog.  He deserves every bite, don’t you think?  Pick up a copy of his book and find out just how great he really is!

Happy Bacon Day



Hey Nashville Dog Lovers… Strutt Your Mutt!

Did everyone have an awesome National Dog Day?  Right on the heels of such a fun phenomenon comes this event you won’t want to miss…

Otis proudly invites you and every fabulous fido fan you know to join him at Nashville’s 25th Annual Dog Day Festival on Saturday, September 20, 2014, at Centennial Park!  We will be there, and we’ll be donating a portion of all book sales to the Nashville Humane Association.

Click here to visit the Festival link.

Click here to visit the Festival link.

This charity is close to our hearts because Otis was once a lost dog, waiting on his forever family.  He was a pound puppy (originally named, Bear), adopted by some college guys who changed his name to Otis, but did not set out to find him when he wandered off one summer.  Otis found us, nosing under the wobbly fence plank that had been weakened by the Nashville floods.  A week of searching for his owner concluded with the discovery that his previous owner was neither looking for him nor concerned for his well being, and if Otis came back, he would be returned to the pound for the convenience of the previous owner.  Of course, the rest of the story is the beautiful history of how Otis became ours, and we became his.  It’s all within the chapters of Otis Goes to School.

Come out and meet this courageous canine at the Dog Day Festival… you’ll love him from first sight!

From now through the day of the Festival, we will be selling special edition bookmarks for $1 each, or any donation you’d like to make, and all the profits will go to the Nashville Humane Association.  We will also be hosting book sales to donate part of the proceeds (and 100% of donations) to the NHA.

Comment below or email to make a donation and receive your books and bookmarks.  Or, give us a shout on Facebook or on Twitter @OtisGoes!

Here’s the first of several special edition bookmarks… who wants one?  You do!

OGTS DogDays 2014 bookmark